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The merger, the past, and the future (November 2000)

"Cruiser Lover" wrote:

I have loved Chrysler Corp. since the mid-ninties. Since I was three or four, I have loved cars. It's a shame--I can identify the make and model of a car by looking at the headlights of it in my peripheral vision.

I was raised surrounded by mainly Japanese cars--friends and family had Accords, Camrys (and the late, great Sentra SE-R) and the like and would sometimes complain about the unreliability of American cars. Thus I grew up biased against American makers.

Then, starting my seventh grade year, I had to scrape my jaw off the ground when a friend showed me the Dodge Viper. My interest grew in ChryCo with the introduction of the new Jeep Grand Cherokee, busting through the window at the Detroit auto show. The groundbreaking, daring Ram pickup proved that the “rules have changed.” And I still can't forget how Kermit the frog helped Eaton and Lutz introduce the new Caravan; and how the van sprung out from a pond on stage and landed on a lily pad, with Kermit exclaiming, “It leapfrogs the competition!” Don't forget Eaton and Lutz introducing the Prowler, with sunglasses on. The clincher--on vacation in Hawaii, my dad rented a convertible and we all were in awe as the sparkling island sun shone on a brand-new deep purple Chrysler Sebring JXi convertible as the valet drove it up to us. Every product Chrysler has made since the mid-ninties has never failed to impress me.

And so when one day, as I was flipping through “Car and Driver”, imagine the amazement I felt as I saw an ad for the insanely gorgeous PT Cruiser, the wagon sitting confidently under the headline “”--I was awestruck. So, when in the fall of 1998 when I heard that Daimler-Benz was merging with Chrysler, I--with the rest of the automotive world--was excited and trying to understand the massive possibilities in the future.

Daimler and Chrysler combined could cover everything from top to bottom--from the emerging economies of Latin America with the Chrysler Java to the rich, sheikh-owned deserts of Saudi Arabia with the Mercedes-Benz SL600 V-12. In my high school economics class, I did a research paper on the DaimlerChrysler merger. I praised it in a presentation to my class as a "merger of equals," with Chrysler gaining Mercedes engineering prowess and vault-like build quality while Mercedes would gain Chrysler styling boldness and marketing-savvy.

More than two years on, the merger has turned out to be anything but.

Helmut Werner, Schrempp's predecessor, was actually the CEO who turned around Mercedes by pushing the production of the SLK roadster. Schrempp kicked Werner out during a power struggle and wanted Benz to get into new markets like the red-hot SUV market in North America and the microcar market in Southeast Asia. Thus, Schrempp was already engineering the damage to the Mercedes brand before our friends Lee Iacoca and Kirk Kerkorian helped land Chrysler in Schrempp's lap.

While some of Chrysler's recent issues have been exaggerated, there are some wrinkles that need to be ironed out. First of all, let's be happy that ChryCo vehicles don't wear Firestones as standard equipment. But the exploitation of customers who are eager for a Cruiser and the close to $600 million dollar loss this past quarter are worrisome signs; not to mention the resignations of Lutz, Eaton, Stallkamp, and most worryingly, Gale. DaimlerChrysler's CEO meanwhile has been satisfying his ego by snapping up stakes in Mitsubishi and Hyundai, not to mention Detroit Diesel and Frieghtliner.

The current redesigns of key models has been a disappointment. I'm obviously chasing a Neon, I want an R/T model BAD. But the previous Neon was “cuter” and more groundbreaking--it was a real import-fighter from Detroit. The previous Cirrus/Stratus/Breeze line of vehicles were more boldly cab-forward. The consolidation of the Cirrus/Sebring into one nameplate, the new Stratus marketed as an afterthought, and the demise of the Breeze as well as the entire Plymouth brand is strange.

If anything, Chrysler needs to be more bold. Ford's new Thunderbird is going to turn some heads (although its disgustingly ugly) and Pontiac's Aztek proves that even GM is willing to produce daring (though repellent) designs. I've always thought of Chrysler as the Apple of automobiles--daring, trail-blazing and different, though never dominant and sometimes brushing with death. So, like Apple, which recreated interest in its brand with the iMac and G4 Cube, Chrysler needs to continue with daring designs to keep the potential customers flowing in. Build the Charger! Build the GT Cruiser! Build the Commander! Show the world that Chrysler will not descend into the cookie-cutter world of the rest of the manufacturers.

The point here is that DaimlerChrysler has tremendous potential. The company's slogan is "Expect The Extraordinary:" we have, and DC has failed to deliver.

Message to Schrempp: get your act together--pay attention to DC's current holdings instead of trying to expand it further. If Chrysler's new minivan sales are lukewarm or if the upcoming (and very late) new Ram flops, Chrysler won't die or be sold. The way things are right now is the way they will stay for a while.

Plymouth won't come back--we all know the PT Cruiser was supposed to be a Plymouth and we all know the Neon won't fly in North America as a Chrysler and all that--but that's the way it is. I'm a hardcore Chrysler fan and will always be. I dream of a silver PT Cruiser, a black Jeep Liberty (or whatever the new KJ's name will be) a red Neon R/T and a champagne Sebring convertible in my garage in the future.



I wholeheartedly agree on most points. Chrysler's latest round of cars - focusing on "evolution" instead of "revolution" - imho dilute the group's focus. Heck, the first generation of these cars were really something - something special, something very very different. While the new minivans are beautiful, they're not what I expected... I expected a bit more of the boldness you mention.

Same goes for the Sebring/Stratii. If memory serves, the next car line that'll be up for a redesign will be the LHs - correct me if I'm wrong - in a few years. It'll be very interesting to see how those pan out. I think if the third cycle of these vehicles is anything like the second... we might better know the direction the Chrysler Group is going in.

Rich Hutchinson wrote:

I agree wholeheartedly, though Eaton leaving wasn't much of a loss. I'm also looking at a PT and have followed the soap opera closely. I think they should have set the wheels in motion for additional capacity from the start, especially since people were clamoring to place deposits before they were even accepting orders (and some of those are still waiting for their car).

My position on Plymouth is well recorded on my website ( I find the product release schedule curious; letting the entire lineup get old at once.

Basically, Chrysler was due for a shortfall anyway, and the fiasco this 'merger' has created has only made it worse. Chrysler needs to stay in the forefront of Schrempps mind, or risk following Fokker. I don't view it impossible that it could be reduced to Jeeps and minivans. I don't think it's likely, but I don't feel it's impossible. I can see the status quo being maintained for awhile.

James P. HoldenWhat Chrysler desperately needs is a strong voice to be a bug in Schrempp's ear. Eaton wasn't it, and I don't think Holden is either. [Webmaster addition: if Holden had been, I suspect he would not have been chosen as Chrysler Group head].

From the Grand Cherokee to the Neon, the 'second generation' vehicles have been 'play it safe' evolutions of the original. Improved, certainly, but not eyepopping. As a 95 Neon owner who really follows the model, I'll use it as an example. The latest one addresses many of the shortfalls the orignal had, but somehow lost some of its personality; not to mention the coupe. Most telling is the powertrain.

Back in 95, 132hp standard was pretty rare in that class, and 150 as the uplevel motor was mighty impressive. In 2000, much less so. And the 3 spd autos bulletproof reputation isn't enough in 2000; it was barely enough in 1995!

AR agreed:

This "merger of equals" is a joke. I've been with Chrysler all of my life. That means I have been through the K car period and the early '90s recession and now the "great" return of Chrysler only to see the company get eating up by Daimler. I guess it will become Daimler Benz pretty soon anyway.

I wasn't and still am not happy with the merger. However, it is done and I'll just have to go somewhere else. Eaton's Chrysler really didn't thrill me too much either, though. I started looking at other brands about that time. I do agree that some of Chrysler's cars do look good, but I also liked some of the designs in the '80s, '60s, and '50s. I guess I respected Chrysler back then because it was the "little guy" and it was fighting back and challenging the imports and Ford and GM. Basically nobody gave it a chance, and look what Iacocca and others did.

Being raised in a Chrysler family, I was proud yet perplexed by Chrysler. And now I am even more perplexed by it. So, I used to love Chrysler, but Eaton and his irresponsible ways have changed all that.

MTS wrote:

I think The Board should have considered the fact that there was another option! Ever heard of a joint venture? I think that would worked out better. Think about it. Chrysler could have worked with Benz's enginers to produce and combine European style and American cues and handleing. In return Daimler-benz would have got a Mopar 3.5 v6 to put in their cars and sport utes. Just like Isuzu and GM, when they both invested in the Duramax diesel.

I would have liked the idea of Chrysler and Daimler to invest in a new transmission and a very economical diesel for cars and and minivans, to bring up the fuel economy. Ok, see what I'm talking about? There would have no interruption of leadership. They both can still do what they want to do with further ideas.

About Eaton.

He wasn't a Lutz but I don't view him that bad. because he did not interfere with what Lutz had to offer. Such as the '94 Dodge Ram "people don't realize this but it was that truck that bought Chrysler back on it's feet" Viper, and Neon. Just think the '93 and past Rams just had 4% of the market now they go a good 25?% They were tough trucks but behind style by 20 something years.


One of the only things I have about Eaton is he didn't think before he acted.

But anyway I would like give your some view of what Chrysler could have done for Plymouth. The big mistake is they veiwed the brand the wrong way. After the last hart attack of the company their main focus was for Dodge. Nothing wrong with that since Dodge is the backbone of the company because of its truck and minivan market. They kept Plymonth as a cheap affortable brand.

There was the problem; you see Plymonth was supposed to be so much more than that. If you can recall durring the late 50s when the brand revealed one of the most shocking family sports cars, the Fury.

It also came to mind that Bob Lutz said that when he was thinking which brand to put the Viper, he said that "the Viper was too big for Plymonth" Well I don't know about that. We all remember the Barracuda, Roadrunner, GTX and Superbird. All were very competitive on the street and even just as well known for performance as their sister Dodge.

If Chrysler would have thought for a just moment. They could have done for Plymouth as they did for the Dodge and the Chrysler brand.

Bob Sheaves wrote:

Mercedes diesel engines.... What a joke! The VMs Chrysler was using had better BSFC, less NVH, smaller package, and more power to boot.

Or even better comparison....DDC Series 55 (MB) vs DDC Series 40 (IH) or Series 60 (DDC).

Ask anyone at Freightliner which engine was better (less problems, recalls, and warrenty claims)....or ALF (American LaFrance) where they got stuck with the leftover engines Freightliner could not pawn off on any unsuspecting customers.

'Course, VM was bought by DDC, now DCX owns them....wanna bet VM and now DDC go the way of Chrysler, Freightliner, and ALF?

Rich Hutchinson added:

No doubt. There's plenty of blame to go around for the failure of the brand. There always is. the combo of cars 'just like Dodge' without a convincing marketing campaign simply spells doom.

I do think they had an option other than scuttling the ship. Even if it was decided they didn't have money to invest in it now; maybe they could've just put it on hiatus.

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