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Chrysler Shoots At Its Own Feet Again

Back in the 1960s, one of Chrysler's leaders noticed that kids on the street were not racing Plymouths or Dodges; they were racing Chevies and Fords. (Click here for details). It took very little time for Chrysler to come out with the Melrose Missile and other high-performance cars. Mopars were soon feared on the street.

It looked like the Neon would bring some of that back to Chrysler, in an era when the kids increasingly race each other in modified Hondas, Toyotas, and the like. But that ended when the new Neon arrived with an engine which, though advanced when it first came out - in 1994 - is now simply average.

Chrysler needs to recapture the kids, drag their attention away from Civics and Excursions. The PT Cruiser is Step One. NASCAR is Step Two. But more is needed. Hondas don't race in NASCAR, but they're out on the street. Where is Dodge?

(I might also add that I recently spoke with someone who said he couldn't buy a Concorde, no matter how good, because he wanted the cachet of a real luxury brand, like Infiniti, BMW, or Lexus. Sure, n=1, but it supports the idea that you can't have a luxury brand that starts at $16,000...)

As a 25 year old American driver, it has been increasingly difficult to remain a Mopar loyalist. My time tested 1993 Dodge Daytona has over 140,000 on it, but this matters little to the hordes of Civic and Corolla drivers out there who consistently bash me. When my friend's 1999 Honda Civic Si gets to 140K, then he should be allowed to talk trash to me.

Young buyers are interested in performance and upgradeability. These are two concepts that Chrysler, and presumeably DC, have no understanding of. Gone are the days when Mopar enthusiasts could banter on and on about Roadrunners and Cudas. Most of us have seen a Viper maybe once or twice in our lives on the road. That car might as well not even exist. Why was the Avenger such a weakling? Why did they can the Neon coupe? Why do they insist on mating weaksauce automatic transmissions to engines that are grossly underpowered anyway? Sports cars and performance build image.

Every loser pushing a Ford Escort ZX2 around is imagining he's in a Mustang. Every loser in his speed-governed teal Cavalier Z24 is thinking that he's Jeff Gordon. When I'm in my dented green Daytona, well, I am pretty much driving my dented green Daytona.

I guess I'll have to go over to Mitsubishi and buy a Mirage or an Eclipse now. My family had a Satellite, Cordoba, Omni, Reliant K, Sundance, Laser XE, Breeze, and Concorde. My father still clings to hope, but mine is gone.

Chrysler, why hast thou forsaken us?

Its very disheartening to see the Japanese manufactures understanding American needs more than our home turf people are doing. Chrysler at one time had its fingers on the pulse of the little guy, this makes for loyalty.

With the introduction of the 2000 Neon I see Chrysler adopting "GM thinking", that is you will buy what we make even if you don't like it. You can take a Civic and if you desire run 9 second quarter mile times. If I were Dodge I would have a Neon nipping at its heels. For me V8s are dead, a misuse of precious earthly resources, I want to leave some for my children's children. I agree that Chrysler is doing an amazing job at engineering but the "Packages offered" do not fit what the public is demanding. This reflects in the sales figures compared to the Japanese vehicles. Teaming up and copying the europeans will not help, look at the euro. sales figures here. Chrysler needs to appeal to the youth of "this" country, the europeans will follow. Last year at "Raceway Park in New Jersey ( The major drag strip in the North East ) I was greeted by enthusiasm from the "compact car circle", this year I am ignored. I would like to know how to supply Chrysler feedback without shoveling my money out the window by purchasing a car that will only be supported for a few years. Maybe I am a thing of passed times and should only enjoy the "illusion" of performance Chrysler is trying to create.

Everything you stated is true, however, the folks at Chrysler are not the only guilty parties in the poor aim department. Ford NOT building the first mini van comes to mind. Lee Iaccoca pleaded to no avail when he worked there. They had a design and everything. How about Ford's famous automatics that needed a friction agent in the fluid to make them work? What about the Edsel, or what they did to the Mustang (after '70) and T-Bird (after '57). Can you say Pinto?

The good General is not immune either. How 'bout that first Vette. The sales were so bad they almost shelved the car. The Corvair, "Powerslide", Corvettes of the late 70s and early 80s. Now we have the "New Monte Crisco". I think you get the point. All car companies, here and abroad have their share of boners to live with. Generally, they adjust.

Hopefully, Chrysler will keep doing just fine thank you, and the competition will have to sweat real hard to keep up.

Excellent points. It's amazing that a company that came up with the minivan and PT Cruiser can have it's head up it's you-know-what about *so many* things.

You mentioned the Neon; I can add to that.

On sedans, the original had no rear power windows available; even though most everything else in existence (including the Shadow/Sundance it replaced) gave you all four with the power window package.

Then, when they redesigned it and moved it *upmarket*...they STILL didn't give it rear power windows. This from the company that "no longer makes base cars".

Chrysler has done an equally bad job exploiting its successes (the Spirit R/T you mention) and minimizing damage (the handling of the 4 speed trans, and the Neon head gasket, just to name a couple close to my heart).

They're hyping the bejeezus out of the PT Cruiser now. It better live up to that hype, or things will get real grim.

Overall, it's a shame. It's a shame that ignorant execs at both the dearly departed Chrysler Corp. and the current Daimlerchrysler (sic) consistently misjudge and mishandle situation after situation, from dealing with customers to brand management

It's a shame that they never knew what to do with Plymouth; the way they shuffled them around is simply criminal.

It's a shame that Bob Eaton values his stock portfolio over is place in automotive history.

It's just a damn shame.

A few thoughts on the status of what we've called Chrysler:

1. I think Chrysler enthusiasts like ourselves need to start thinking of the Mopar achievements over the years as part of a distinct era of Chrysler independence...radically different from the organization that markets cars under the same brands today. I am not particularly concerned with Chrysler being owned by Germans or not...what does concern me is that the Daimler heirarchical culture of "shut up and do what your boss tells you...and no stock options or significant bonuses to reward you" will result in less motivated designers who will come up with duller, less innovative cars. There are foreign manufacturers who would have been a better fit for Chrysler's fairly freewheeling culture if a merger was a goal. And, I hate to say this, but there are domestic manufacturers that would have been a far better fit. GM buying Chrysler (or vice-versa) would have been the best thing that ever happened to GM, because it would have provided an infusion of people who understand how to liberate new ideas and revitalize a tired corporation. And, it would have given Chrysler's talented people access to global resources to design, engineer and market cars that a luxury car niche player like Daimler did not bring to the table.

I firmly believe that the appeal of the Daimler sale was the ability of Chryco management to cash in their stock options immediately, because Chrysler stock would cease to exist. (And, I hate to admit, if I were in the same position, I might have done the same thing.)

Given this personal financial motivation, Eaton and his team have brought us here... where Schrempp runs things at "the former Chrysler Corporation."

So, let's enjoy our older Chryslers, Plymouths, Dodges, DeSotos, and maybe even an Eagle Premier or two. But, let's admit that Chrysler is gone, and not feel bad if we're Mopar enthusiasts who just bought a Ford. Because there is no Chrysler Corporation to buy a new car from anyway. It's over.

2. Regarding Plymouth, I don't think that the story here is that difficult to understand, and I think canning the brand was totally the right call...and probably should have been done earlier, at about the time the Neon was launched in 1995.

I'm only 30, so my memory doesn't go back all that far, but I think my observations would be representative of a lot of potential buyers...

Throughout the '80's, Plymouths and Dodges were practically identical (except for grille/taillight texture) and carried corporate pentastar logos. So, there was no marketing or content differentiation between them, especially when Chryco would advertise financing and rebate offers showing the twins next to each other with the the two model names blurred together like "Dodge Shadow Plymouth Sundance." These marketing tactics gave us 10 years of "these cars are the same; pick the dealer nearest you." That established all Chrysler products as commodities where the brand didn't matter. This was detrimental to ALL the Chrysler Corporation brands going into the LH era.

By 1995, this was the Plymouth lineup:

  • Plymouth Voyager, which was often referred to as a "Chrysler minivan" in combination with the Town & Country in advertising, and was almost always referred to as a "Chrysler minivan" by normal humans.
  • Plymouth Neon, which was more insane, because it had the same name as the Dodge version, and was usually called "a Neon," not "a Plymouth."
  • Plymouth Breeze, which was marketed totally on "value." Value is fine, but when the base pricing is within about a grand, would you pick the "value" car with the blue badging and the 2.0L slugomatic engine...or a Cirrus across the same showroom with greater powertrain and trim and no "I'm cheap" stigma.

So, you had two cars that weren't even clearly known as Plymouths, and one that was just a version of another car sold through the same dealer network. Look what the version meant, too:colored decals instead of metalized badging, no 2.4 or V6 available, and only the cheapest interior trim.

So what was the point in continuing from there? The Prowler was a great car, but it was the only step to rebuilding Chrysler made for the brand in the late '90s, and its impact on the brand image or people's interest in buying cars with the brand was minimal.

Plus, the reach of brands is now broader than ever. Look at the Ford brand. This is slapped on the Focus for $12,000...and runs to Excursions at $40,000 plus with no huge consumer backlash. Toyota, Honda and Chevy sell in similar $30 grand wide ranges. So, why should Chrysler spend the money to offer three brands of each car in the tightly-packed subcompact and compact segments, when other makers can run from very cheap to very expensive with the same brand?

Finally, let's remember that the only metal we as enthusiasts lose is the Prowler. (And that is truly sad.) But, can still buy Neons, minivans and cloud cars...we just lose a make we held dear. And the brand had been misused for 20+ years anyway. So, instead of watching DC continue this spiral of mismanagement that only cheapens the history and tradition of the brand, I think we should be glad that the brand is being retired and we can remember Plymouth as a great automaker.

It's probably better than what we'll see Schrempp do to Chrysler and Dodge over the next decade.

I really think many of your are over reacting. It is obvious the Avenger wasn't positioned properly when released in 1995. Introducing it in IROC made people think it was a new Dodge muscle car -- It was far from that. They dropped the name to simplify the lineup and are reposiitoned it (Most critics bashed it for a lack of power even if power was adequate -- just because it LOOKED like it should be faster, even though Chrysler targeted the Grand Am and V6 Mustang/departed Probe as its main competitor).

By naming the new coupe, Stratus, they are clearly targeting a market that the vehicle better suits. It is obvious that they now see their main competition as Alero coupe, Solara, etc. With Chrysler trying to buy a big chunk of Mitsubishi -- it does make sense that the coupe would be Mitsu developed. GM and Ford also use other manufacturers on some platforms (most small Chevy's are built by Isuzu, Toyota or Suzuki). Several Fords are Mazda derived (even though Ford now seems to be moving away from this practice).

It looks very possible that Chrysler is going RWD on their next large car platform (LH). If the Charger is indeed introduced in 2004, will the Stratus coupe bother anyone at that point?

I can't agree more with you. I have driven Mopars my entire life and won't drive anything else. I can't say I was happy with the sell out. Personally, I think Eaton should be strung up. He padded his wallet and basically sent the company down the tubes.

The Germans have a different perspective on automobiles and unfortunately for us, they are forcing that perspective on the Chrysler Corp. The Germans have no clue about the American automobile industry and how it works. They don't see the need for different levels of refinement and have already dropped the axe on Plymouth. The rumors of Chrysler being a car only brand, Dodge being trucks only, and Jeep being SUVs really scares me.

It is unfortunate that a company with such a great history and unlimited potential was basically sold out by people only looking to add to their stock portfolios. I must say that I can only see things getting worse for Mopar fans. Even if the Germans do change their approach, the damage is already done and there will be no comming back.

Bringing out the TC by Maserati at the same time as the redesigned LeBaron coupe/convertible (which looked the same at more than three paces and cost $10K less, although, to be fair, it was nowhere near as luxurious and exclusive). Follow that up with dismal advertising and promotions, and you've got a big flop on your hands.

I couldn't have put it any better than is written. I feel that Chrysler with it's excellent engineering staff should have put more emphasis on refining the powertrains and got away from Mitsu years ago. They have a past history of some of the best engines and transmissions in the business eg. slant six and torqueflite transmissions, also the most powerful and sofisticated high performance engines ever produced thanks to a dedicated staff of engineers namely Mr. Hoover and Mr.Maxwell. What they really need is an executive restructuring with people who truely care about the product produced and take great pride like the old Chrysler Corp. did instead of being highly paid bean counters that only care about the bottom line. They surely have the styling right now, maybe it's time to look at spending more in refining a great product and getting back to making each product unique instead of just adding another vehicle with the same name and flood the market. My opinion is get rid of Mitsubshi totally and stick to a major refinement of the best they have to offe, redesign the major problem areas and build a reputation back for reliability and customer service which is not a major investment, just better quality control and having the people that really care about the companies future in the new millenium.

I agree with a lot of what you said. One you missed was the paint problem on early 90s vehicles. My Dakota suffered from this, as does one of our friends Minivans. The dealer and zone rep basically told me it was my problem. This single incident destroyed my loyalty to Chrysler. The other point is the Viper was touted as going to be the the $30,000 MSRP range. Look what happened...Chrysler doubled it and we still have no affordable enthusist car. Driving a Neon R/T to compete with Camaros and Mustangs makes me what to puke. GM is looking better all the time. Dusty Ellison

Chrysler should resurect the Plymouth nameplate but only for limited production vehicles. With the Charger concepts platform and the 354hemi from the 300C concept Plymouth could produce a new version of the roadrunner similar to the charger concept. It would be a good move for DC to bring Plymouth back as a performance only moniker starting with the already popular Prowler then developing more cars with a performance image, like a new Roadrunner or say a new 'cuda . Thanks for listining

It's truly amazing that Chrysler drops Plymouth with the Voyager clearly outselling any Town & Country by at least 100,000 in a year. The Breeze which is seems very hard to find in any dealers stock outsells the Cirrus by a 5 to one margin and even Plymouth's specialty car, the Prowler outsells the Viper! In the Mpls -St. Paul area, there have been rebadged Intrepids with Chrysler emblems making it a Chrysler Intrepid? (a beta test site trying to understand the success of the Dodge Intrepid over the Chrysler Concord??) WHAT!! Imagine a Plymouth version of the Intrepid (unique styling, a must) and what a potential sales success it could be while still maintaining the attraction of the high end luxury sales of the 300M and Concord. And now you are going to dilute the brand with what...Chrysler Neon's? Add to the confusion that the Voyager is now a Chrysler and the beloved Prowler is being replaced with a Howler?

The sad thing is Chrysler will definitely lose a large portion of the 280,000 Plymouth buyers and will realize it too late. In today's fight for market share, giving up sales for a poorly conceived marketing strategy is a colossal mistake! The auto segment is everchanging....and now with the price of gas going up, those inviting SUV's are soon to give way to some economical brands.....Plymouth, where are you??

I read your article and boy did you hit the nail on the head. I have always bought Plymouth and Chrysler cars, but after what they did to Plymouth it's hello G.M. and Ford , goodby Chrysler.

Plymouth never had a car of its own since 1989 after the Gran Fury (I own one). The biggest joke was the Eagle Vision , everybody got a car but Plymouth. Their marketing of Plymouth was ridicious. I have been trying to e-mail Chrysler but have't been successful, do you have their e-mail address? Well I am really disappointed with Chrysler. Oh how about Dodge got the Charger, Chrysler got the Cordova and Plymouth got Zip.

I was reading some of the letters that others had sent in and they couldn't be more on the ball. I worked at a [many brands] dealer as a mechanic. As a long time and faithful follower of classic Mopars, I was embarassed by what was rolling off the trucks. Jeeps needing new computers, rattles, suspension parts wearing out prematurely, and 4spd o.d. trannys constantly puking. The same on the trans across the entire line. I agree the cars/trucks are works of art but I've seen too many reliability problems to buy one.

I think the Germans bought Chrysler to get the M-1 tank plans but they're just a little late for that (yes Chrysler engineered that about the time they almost went belly-up).

1. Last years decision not to sell Dodge cars or Plymouths in Canada. This would force consumers that didnt want chrysler 'luxury' to go elsewhere for a passenger car, or force canadian consumers to buy dodge cars/plymouths from US dealarships.

2. The decision to screw around with the eagle brand was very wasteful. When it bought out AMC it shouldve forgotten about passenger cars for that division and just let the Jeep division just focus on jeeps and let the other divisions do all the work with the passenger cars.

3. Another one related to Canadian marketing. Selling the Neon and Intrepid in Canada as Chryslers.

Original editorial

Reading Curtis Redgap's excellent history of Plymouth brought to mind Chrysler's recent history. I was thinking specifically of the new Avenger/Sebring twins, which will be renamed in order to confuse everyone:

Mitsubishi Chrysler
Stratus Sedan X Color
Stratus Coupe (formerly Avenger) X
Stratus Convertible X
Sebring Coupe X
Sebring Sedan (formerly Cirrus) X

To go over just a few more examples:

  • Diluting the Chrysler brand repeatedly with cars like the Chrysler LeBaron versions of the Dodge Lancer, Aries, and Spirit;
  • Making three different Chrysler versions of the LH while giving Plymouth nary a model, then having Plymouth, Dodge, and Chrysler share the Neon;
  • Fargo;
  • Selling the company to Mercedes, knowing that the German majority would destroy everything that made Chrysler successful, at the peak of Chrysler's success
  • Eliminating the Plymouth brand, incorrectly assuming Plymouth buyers would flock to Dodge (sales figures show they are flocking to pretty much everyone else)
  • Never making a domestic small car, thoughout the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s, until the Aries and Reliant (the Omni/Horizon was an import design)
  • Having a host of different cars named LeBaron, at the same time!
  • Wasting the Plymouth brand by making the cars nearly identical to Dodges in every way, rather than keeping Plymouth on a different wheelbase or in a different price class a la Honda/Acura (same platforms, different tuning and accessories).
  • Creating the Eagle brand even while ignoring Plymouth, and making it a hodgepodge of imported and domestic vehicles
  • Using Mitsubishi for its coupes when the cloud car platform (or an extended Neon) would serve as an admirable base
  • De-cutisizing the Neon, which appears to have caused sales to drop despite the fact that the car is much improved
    • Not fixing the original Neon's core problems with frameless windows, the high final drive ratio, and the exhaust donut far, far earlier.
    • Leaving the inane HVAC controls intact when redesigning the rest of the car
  • Not publicizing the Spirit R/T when it had the chance
  • The four-speed automatic transmission: rushing it through, saying you could use Dexron (on the dipstick!) in it, not replacing it completely
  • Letting dealers abuse customers; not policing its zone officials, who are supposed to keep the dealers honest
  • Making the interior of the 300M less luxurious than the cheaper Concorde
  • Restricting Grand Cherokee production, because "SUVs will be less popular."
  • Still not making a compact pickup!
  • Not having two lines of minivans to prevent competition. Imagine of the Plymouth and Dodge were different, designed for different groups; that's where internal competition would be great. Dodge could go after the well-heeled, Plymouth after the bargain conscious, Chrysler after the luxury buyer with an optioned-out, differently-tuned Dodge. That might have prevented some of the losses to other makers
  • Being paranoid with journalists who are trying to give Chrysler a better name for quality (yes, that's a personal issue)
  • Who can forget the ABS and minivan latch issues?
  • Tolerating a customer service line that consistently alienates customers with frequent long waiting times, rude service, and incorrect information

I'm sure you can think of many more. Chrysler has consistently shot itself in the foot over the years. They have done so many things that puzzled bystanders and insiders alike that it's a wonder the company has survived, even as a part of Daimler. (The part that makes money!). We can only credit Chrysler's incredible engineering team and a hard core of managers, dealers, and workers who kept the company going despite the incredible blithering incompetence and pound-foolishness of its leaders and executives.

There are things the company can do to fix its mistakes, but it will not. Just like Chrysler never designed a new transmission to replace the Ultradrive and its descendants, it will not admit that it made a mistake with Plymouth, or for that matter with anything else.

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