Chrysler 2000: Dodge, Jeep, and Plymouth under Daimler
Chrysler went into the year 2000 proud of its rising sales, numerous awards, and successful launches of the second-generation LH cars and Grand Cherokee. Chrysler was responsible for half the profits of the huge DaimlerChrysler combine, and their Ram trucks were still gaining market share. The PT Cruiser, originally intended to be the second in a new line of exciting Plymouths, was generating excitement among people who would never think of buying a Chrysler. Dodge had even started its return to NASCAR car racing, announcing it in 1999 and showing their new cars in 2000.
The year 2000 started out well for Chrysler. It slowly turned into a nightmare and by the end, analysts and pundits agreed that Daimler’s crack Mercedes-Benz executives would save “beleaguered” Chrysler — the highest-flying automaker in the world in 1998.
- Respected chief designer John Herlitz retired and was replaced by Trevor Creed, formerly VP of design for large cars, small cars, and minivans.
- Chrysler CFO Tom Capo, known for his scruples, left the company, reportedly because he did not like the direction it was taking. He was replaced by a German officer.
- Lynn Townsend, who was president and CEO of Chrysler from 1961 to 1975, died on August 17.
- In the very first month of the year, Robert Eaton, hand-picked successor to Lee Iaccoca, stepped down.
- Tom Gale, the man responsible for the looks of cars like the Viper and Intrepid, announced his retirement. He was with Chrysler for 33 years, and was one of four Chrysler representatives on the DaimlerChrysler board. That number eventually fell to just one.
- Former Chrysler leader Thomas Stallkamp joined MascoTech's board of directors.
- James Holden was pushed out in November 2000, replaced by Dieter Zetsche, former head of Daimler’s commercial truck unit. Zetsche appointed Daimler man Wolfgang Bernhard to be his number two man. Dieter Zetsche brought in 24 German executives shortly afterwards.
The good: minivans, Liberty, PT Cruiser
There was a great deal of excitement over the launches, which mainly went well. The 2001 minivans came out on January 10, 2000; the 2000 model year minivans had few changes.
Originally slated to get the high-power 3.5 liter engine used in the Chrysler 300M, which belted out a nice 250 hp with 250 lb-ft of torque, the 2001 minivans instead got power boosts on the 3.3 and 3.8 liter engines (to 180 and 215 hp); and the 2.4 liter four-cylinder continued.
The popular vans did get popular new features, including power tailgate, power sliding doors on both sides, and more cupholders, but the short-sighted cost-cutters knocked out the driver-friendly windshield wiper de-icers. It still got tri-zone automatic temperature control, heated seats, and side airbags. The vans were clearly an advance, overall, and customers reacted accordingly.
A related minivan change was moving all long wheelbase production to Windsor, where the quality was higher, and, more to the point, a new car, called the CS, could be made. The Chrysler CS concept car would eventually become the Chrysler Pacifica, and would be made on the same line in Windsor as the minivans.
After being ordered by Daimler to keep production and sales numbers up, Chrysler president James Holden chose to keep producing the “old” 2000 minivans as the 2001s were ramping up. Analysts were ecstatic at this use of production capacity, but Chrysler ended up slapping $4,000 on the hoods of the old minivans to move them out when the improved models were next to them in showrooms, and it cost the company at least millions of dollars.
In a similar but more successful move, Chrysler chose to build the Jeep Cherokee, which was setting sales records, even as it launched its replacement, which had to be renamed so they could keep selling the old Cherokee; the new truck was called the Jeep Liberty (KJ) within North America, though it remained Cherokee everywhere else. Cherokee sales dried up faster than anticipated, though, and the overlap wasn't as long as expected. The new Liberty would promptly outsell the Cherokee, and, for a while, gave the sales-leading Ford Explorer a run for its money.
While the old Cherokee’s days were numbered, some changes were made to the graphics and exterior appearance; and extended-life headlamps were brighter than the 1999 headlamps.
Chrysler's EPIC electric-powered minivan won two categories in the Tour de Sol - the minivan category and Customer Acceptability. The rally is five days long. About 200 EPICs were being used around the country at the time.
Car and Driver finished their 40,000 mile Chrysler 300M test, and the car finished flawlessly — no problems, great performance. They rated the 300M their top choice domestic performance sedan.
Two new 4.7 liter engines appeared, one producing about 260 hp and 290 lb-ft of torque, to replace the 318 and 360.
The 2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser's price was announced on January 14 at a reasonable $16,000; there was no "unique premium" on it. Chrysler expressed a desire to ramp up production to a massive 180,000 units. The Panel Cruiser was shown to great acclaim, and promptly forgotten. The GT Cruiser, on the other hand, would be oddly renamed to PT Cruiser GT and sold well for the first years.
PT Cruisers were an instant hit. The January 2001 issue of Motor Trend named the PT Cruiser the Car of the Year. The base PT went from 0 to 60 mph in 8.6 seconds, nearly a half second faster than the Honda Civic EX, and nearly the same as the Volvo V70 T5 Cross Country. Braking was good, with the Cruiser going from 60 to 0 in 120 feet - lower than most other tested vehicles (the Civic required over fifteen more feet). The skidpad and slalom rating were identical to the Civic EX and the skidpad was close (within .02 g) to the Audi AllRoad Quattro, Elantra GLS, Lexus LS 430, and Volvo V70 T5 Cross Country.
For 2000, the new Dodge Dakota Quad Cab arrived, with four full-sized, wide-opening doors, a full size rear seat, up to 26 cubic feet of storage space in the cab, a five-foot, three-inch bed, 1,450 pound payload, and a choice of three engines — the original 3.9 liter V6, the new 4.7 liter V8, and the big old 5.9 liter Magnum V8. There were new colors and new interior trim and fabrics, and more sound insulation; the adjustable, retractable cupholder was redesigned. With the Quad Cab, though, came the loss of the eight foot bed.
NV-3500 manual, 42RE automatic
NV-3500 manual, 45RFE automatic
|5.9 V8||46RE automatic|
The 4.7 liter V8 was new, and was combined with a new 45RFE automatic transmission that had four regular gears and a special kickdown gear for better highway passing. The base V6 got a new manual transmission
4x4 models were improved in numerous ways, with a new front axle that was better made, higher capacity, and lower weight; a smoother and easier to use transfer case shifter; and an optional full-time four wheel drive transfer case. The rack and pinion steering system on 4WD Dakota trucks was changed to enhance handling precision and feel, and used lifetime-lubricated tie rods. Optional composite skid plates give 4WD models increased coverage and lowered weight.
On all models, the Dodge Dakota switched to weight-saving tubular stabilizer bars, and revised the steering geometry to reduce low-speed cornering tire wear; a hybrid engine cooling fan was quieter yet delivered better air conditioning performance. A 22 gallon gas tank was made standard on regular and Club Cab, and a new gas cap was used. The 2000 Dodge Dakota was already compliant with the 2003 model year head impact safety standard.
...the less successful launches
The 2001 Dodge Stratus was announced; the 200-horsepower Chrysler 2.7-liter DOHC 24-valve V-6 engine was finally available, with the Mitsubishi V6 dropped. The base engine was a Chrysler 147 hp 2.4 liter four. A performance ride and handling package, with 16 inch wheels and AutoStick, was available. Despite improved headlights, new radios, and side airbags, the new Stratus failed to have the impact of the original, and sales started falling.
The Stratus Coupe came along with the Stratus; this was the renamed Dodge Avenger, essentially a Mitsubishi model. It too had a 200 horsepower engine, but it was the Mitsubishi 2.5; the standard Mitsubishi 2.4 liter engine generated 150 hp. The Stratus Coupe and Stratus Sedan did not appear to share a single part.
The Chrysler Cirrus was renamed to Chrysler Sebring, taking on the name of the popular convertible; there were now three Chrysler Sebrings, a coupe (Mitsubishi), sedan, and convertible.
The year 2000 also brought the model-year-2000 Neon. The original Neon had powered into the market like an express stream train, winning awards and accolades; its 0-60 time of 7.8 seconds, as measured by at least one major magazine, was excellent for a five-passenger nearly-midsize entry-level car that attained 29 mpg city, 38 highway (EPA with stick). But it had numerous problems, too, at launch; these were mainly gone by 1998, but Neon fans were optimistic in 1999 that the 2000 model would fix other issues, like the three-speed automatic which was no longer competitive, the lack of rear power windows, the finicky frameless windows, the interior noise, and the odd climate control that led many owners to have the a/c compressor engaged all the time.
The 2000 Neon showed up with framed windows, a completely new look which lost all the attractiveness of the earlier Neon without gaining any love from those who hated the first generation, the same transmission, more weight, and more noise, with lower gas mileage (28/35) with the manual transmission. The engineers had compensated for extra weight not by adding power to the engine, but by putting the ACR gear ratios into the regular cars, so that the engine revved higher at speed. That move wasn’t popular, either. The odd climate control remained in place.
Neon sales actually fell for 2000 with the new models; the Dodge Neon saw just over a thousand new sales, while the Plymouth Neon, with customers knowing that Plymouth was marked for demolition, dropped by a whopping 20,000 sales. The public did not react well to the noisier interior or de-cutified styling, and Neon ended up having several more front clips tried out, along with altered gear ratios and a four-speed automatic, before being retired.
The Chrysler Crossfire was reportedly greenlighted. The original plan was to use the 2.7 liter Chrysler V6 and produce the car in the Conner Avenue plant, replacing the Prowler. It ended up being a German-assembled prior generation Mercedes, retuned and reskinned by Americans — and garnering praise in the German press for being better than the Mercedes version.
The rest of the lines
Rear child seat anchorages were, in compliance with the law, made standard on all cars, with varying degrees of success.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee, redesigned for 1999, continued its successful journey forward, wowing critics and buyers with its satisfying ride and feel, “despite,” critics would say, “that antiquated, non-buzzword-compliant suspension.” There were numerous, relatively minor cosmetic changes to the interior, redesigned air outlets, better gauge pointer lights, and two wheel drive or Selec-Trac available with the new 4.7 liter engine.
Jeep Wrangler had new colors, LEV compliance for the 4.0 in California-like states, a four-speaker cassette stereo standard on Sport, and an improved NVG 3550 five-speed manual transmission. The 4-liter engine gained redesigned cylinder heads, new exhaust manifolds, dual close-coupled mini catalytic converters (on LEV models), and rail-coil distributorless ignition for better performance and lower maintenance (no cap or rotor); the 4.0 thereby reduced its emissions and increased its durability, according to Jeep.
Over at Chrysler, the hot 300M and somewhat less hot Chrysler LHS gained new colors, revised instrument cluster vacuum-fluorescent display shapes, a four-disc CD changer (in the cab) with Infinity II stereos (early models tended to have bounce issues with CDs), cupholders in the rear center armrest, chrome window and lock switch rockers, and color-keyed mirror switches; the rear suspension was modified to cut noise, vibration, and harshness (in spring 1999), and the gas cap was changed. The 3.5 V6 was LEV compliant in California-like regions.
The related second-generation Chrysler Concorde and Dodge Intrepid gained similar changes; a new touring suspension and speed sensitive steering with chrome 16 inch wheels were made standard on the LXi model. While the Intrepid ES moved to a more powerful 2.7 V6 with active-tuned, dual-path intake manifold, the big news for the Dodge Intrepid was the new Dodge Intrepid R/T model, launched in early 2000, which included a 242 horsepower version of the 300M/LHS’ 3.5 liter V6, AutoStick, and different interior styling. The base model gained 16 inch wheels.
The Chrysler Cirrus, Plymouth Breeze, Chrysler Sebring (the convertible) and Dodge Stratus were repackaged somewhat to help increase sales while the 2001s were being prepared; all got a dealer-installed internal emergency trunk release, and a new long life automatic transmission fluid that claimed to be good for 100,000 miles. Chrysler Cirrus got an optional eight-speaker, 100-watt cassette stereo; Dodge got a new SE model with a new cloth interior and standard 2.4 engine; Plymouth got a no-charge 2.4 liter engine (the 2.0 was the base engine) and standard cassette stereo. The Sebring Convertible gained more sound insulation, a Chrysler medallion on the steering wheel cover, and next-generation front airbags. The results were disappointing, though, with Dodge and Chrysler sales ticking up slightly but the loss of the Plymouth Breeze version, which had easily outsold the Cirrus in 1999, dropping down to a mere 6,319 units from 52,054. The net result was a sales drop of 25,000 units.
The Dodge Avenger/Chrysler Sebring Coupe, Chrysler’s Mitsubishi Eclipse takeoff, got a standard 2.5 liter V6 with automatic powertrain, a new silver color, and a fabric change on the Sport interior. There were barely any buyers for these cars; the Mitsubishi Eclipse was not a barnstormer, either. Stratus sedan sales were 97,906; coupe sales were 5,791 and Avenger sales were 5,512. 2000 Cirrus sedan sales were 38,086, 2001 Sebring sedan sales were 10,632, and SSebring coupe sales were 12,870.
There weren’t many changes to the Dodge Viper. A new steel gray color showed up, along with on-board refueling vapor recovery for emissions, and a revised Dodge Viper ACR group that now included a performance oil pan, adjustable monotube shocks (later production), and a new nameplate.
The all important Dodge Ram pickups lost the Ram 1500 Club Cab with eight foot box, and the Ram 2500 Club Cab models; there were new trailer towing mirrors (folding, flag mounted) and new colors. Inside, the SLT+ group with Quad Cab models got unique leather seats and numerous creature comforts including steering-wheel radio controls, four wheel antilock brakes, aluminum wheels, trip computer, and heated seats.
On all models, the tachometer, low-washer-fluid light, and underhood lamp became standard. Front suspension and steering was modified to improve ride, directional stability and steering precision; the Ram 2500 and 3500 rear suspensions were modified for better ride quality when loaded.
The new Rams stopped better with a new brake system that used dual-piston front calipers and a quick response vacuum booster; quicker heavy-duty two wheel drive steering gear helped steering, too. New tires were used on various models, with 3500 getting larger tires and optional chrome plated wheels.
A new off-road group was set up for the Ram 1500 4x4 with short wheelbase, using a unique suspension, limited slip differential, heavy duty components, skid plates, tow hooks, fog lamps, 4.10 axles, and different tires and wheels.
The successful Dodge Durango underwent numerous changes for 2000. There was a new Sport model, with new fabrics and two-tone fascias; and, for all models, optional factory installed running boards, and five-spoke aluminum wheels. There were additional color keyed components for all models, including the steering wheel, floor console, various bezels, levers, and switches, and air outlets. There were newly redesigned gathered leather front and intermediate seats in the SLT+ group, with maple woodgrain bezels and accents and a leather wrapped steering wheel.
|Engine||Transmissions Available (2000)||Power (200)|
|3.9 V6||42RE automatic||175 hp, 225 lb-ft|
|4.7 V8||45RFE automatic||235 hp, 295 lb-ft|
|5.2 V8||44RE automatic||230 hp, 300 ft.-lb.|
|5.9 V8||46RE automatic||245 hp, 335 lb-ft|
The 4.7 liter V8, available for the moment just on four wheel drive models, was new, and was combined with a new 45RFE automatic transmission that had four regular gears and a special kickdown gear for better highway passing. The 318 remained for rear wheel drive buyers; it had better “grunt” but lower peak horsepower and torque, and lower gas mileage. The 4.7 reported cost the company much less to build than the outgoing 318 or 360 (5.2 or 5.9).
4x4 models were improved in numerous ways, with a new front axle that was better made, higher capacity, and lower weight; a smoother and easier to use transfer case shifter; and an optional full-time four wheel drive transfer case. The rack and pinion steering system on 4WD Durango trucks was changed to enhance handling precision and feel, and used lifetime-lubricated tie rods. Optional composite skid plates give 4WD models increased coverage and lowered weight.
As for the famous B-vans, throughout 2000, what would happen to their plant remained a mystery, but it was certain that the vans themselves would vanish. Chrysler actually completed the new Pillete Road paint shop at great cost, only to have the entire plant eventually demolished; at the time, it was assumed that the new Ramcharger, a Ram-based full sized SUV, would be built there to compete with the highly successful Suburban/Yukon and Expedition/Navigator. The vans themselves gained hood-mounted windshield washer nozzles that avoided freezup better than the wiper-mounted ones, new chrome clad wheels, a new gas cap, and powertrain diagnostic codes actually shown to the driver to help in servicing. The B-vans were now only two years from their last redesign, but the writing was on the wall; they had a dedicated following but Chrysler had put too little into the vans for too long.
B-van gas mileage went up for the 360 engine, to 13/17 mpg; the 318 went to 13/19 for the van, and 12/16 for the wagon (for the 3500 model), substantial improvements. The 36RH automatic had been dropped, leaving the 32RH and 46RE. Dodge wrote that the 15 passenger Maxivan 3500 had the highest payload of any full sized van. Maximum trailer weight for the series was 13,500 pounds.
Also brought out in 2000 were concept cars, as usual; the Chrysler Java, clearly meant to be a Plymouth until the last minute with its egg-crate grille, was another take on the city car, using the Rover/Chrysler 1.4 liter engine. The car, which reportedly did 0-60 in 12.6 seconds, appears to have been a serious step in getting an A-class or B-class car produced mainly for foreign consumption. Other concepts included the V8-powered rear-wheel-drive Chrysler 300 Hemi C, Dodge Ram Maxxcab, Dodge Viper GTS/R, and Jeep Varsity. The new Hemi engine was shown in concept form, with 5.7 liters, aluminum heads, two plugs per cylinder, a single camshaft, and 16 valves, producing “roughly 350 hp.”
A turbocharged Neon finally escaped from Chrysler HQ, which had been playing with supercharged Neons since 1995, as Robert Eaton apparently refused to give the go-ahead which could have doubled the Neon’s street credibility. The Dodge Neon SRT concept boasted over 200 horsepower, with 180 lb-ft of torque, and would go into production as the Dodge SRT4.
Plymouth’s final year
In 1999, DaimlerChrysler announced that they would drop Plymouth, a brand created just after Chrysler Corporation itself, which had, until recently, been the corporation’s biggest seller of cars.
As Plymouth fell, Dodge and Chrysler ended up losing most of their distinctiveness trying to cover Plymouth's ground. Chrysler made a low-end minivan to cover Plymouth turf, and any plans of Chrysler regaining its semi-luxury status were dropped. Dodge continued to be all things to all people, ending up without a cohesive brand image.
Most Plymouth buyers appear to have left the company entirely, rather than moving to Dodge or Chrysler as planned, even though Plymouths had long been practically interchangeable with Dodges and Chryslers. Plymouth Prowler sales dropped almost to zero when it became the Chrysler Prowler, and it was dropped shortly afterwards. Through 2000, Plymouth sales fell to half their prior level; Dodge sales rose somewhat at first, and Chrysler gained by around 40% on a smaller sales base, but those gains were not nearly enough to compensate for the loss of Plymouth buyers.
Ironically, in its final full year, Plymouth did very well in quality rankings. The best Chrysler division in J.D. Power initial quality surveys was Plymouth, with 1.4 defects per vehicle.
The last Plymouth, a 2001 Neon, was made in the summer of 2001, but sales had plummeted as soon as the brand was marked for demolition.
|(minivan sales not available)||Plymouth only||All Versions|
|Breeze (Cirrus, Sebring, Stratus sedans)||52,054||6,319||154,431||152,943|
* Calendar year sales; includes some 2001 model year cars. 1999 sales include some 2000 model year cars.
Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep car and truck U.S. sales
Chrysler increased its market share from 2.8% to 3.5% in cars, while Plymouth fell from a 1.4% to a 0.7% share and Dodge fell from 4.2% to 4.1%. Sales across all three brands fell by around 4,000 cars at Chrysler Group, while the overall market increased. The market share gain by Chrysler was around the same as the market share loss by Plymouth; Chrysler was aided by the new, improved Sebring convertible.
In trucks, minivans, and SUVs, Chrysler’s share shot up from 0.9% to 2%, but Plymouth fell from 1.7% to 0.3%, and Dodge fell from 13.7% to 12.9%, and Jeep fell from 6.8% to 5.9%. Overall, Chrysler Group's market share fell by 1.9% in trucks, a loss of over 100,000 trucks in a larger market. Here, the market share gain by Chrysler was 1.1% but the loss of Plymouth was 1.4% ... and Plymouth was still around and selling.
Chrysler Group’s overall market share dropped from 15.6% to 14.5% in the year 2000, due to a 4.4% drop in sales that took place while the overall market rose by 2.7%.
Corporate: Chrysler Group and DaimlerChrysler in the year 2000
The year 2000 was eventful but unhappy for Chrysler. It was the first year since 1993 that Chrysler had been called “troubled,” and the DaimlerChrysler “merger” was increasingly obviously a takeover — and not a gentle one. Products close to launch were delayed; profits went from record heights (and being the envy of many other automakers) to apparent losses.
The year started out well; DaimlerChrysler announced that, while Chrysler had been very small compared with Daimler-Benz, it had contributed half of the final quarter of 1999’s profits to the combined company. Most employees got an $8,100 profit sharing bonus, far above GM’s record $1,775 or Ford’s $7,400.
Then, in March, the chair of DCX's governing board, Hilmar Kopper, said that he had always expected Daimler-Benz to be dominant; he dismissed any talk of "merger of equals," noting that the company is based in Germany, and said he expected no merging of cultures. A few days later, DCX bought a controlling (34 percent) stake in Mitsubishi Motors for $2.1 billion. Juergen Schrempp said MMC would be run as an independent company, but that Mitsubishi would reduce the number of models, cut platforms from 12 to 6, and lower capacity by 16%. The plan was to have MMC small cars replace the planned Chrysler small cars and stop Chrysler's projected movement into Asia.
In April, DCX, which said earlier that it absolutely was not interested in buying Hyundai, called a supervisory board meeting to discuss the acquisition; DCX ended up buying and later selling 10% of Hyundai, forcing its new four cylinder block on Mitsubishi and Chrysler, which had to make many modifications before it was finished; that gave Hyundai a far better engine which ended up as a competitive advantage for the rest of the decade, as it addressed their greatest weakness. We reported in June 2000:
The DCX partnership with Hyundai will also include the creation of a "world car" with Hyundai, Mitsubishi, and DCX, and a 50/50 joint venture for commercial vehicles. The partnership also calls for technology sharing, which may help Hyundai cars to increase their rather poor gas mileage, while giving Chrysler access to recent Mitsubishi efficiency technologies.
The only part of this which appears to have come to fruition is Hyundai’s gain of engine technology.
In July, accusing Chrysler Group of hurting its earnings and stock price, DCX management “asked for” $2 billion in cuts at Chrysler.
In September, it was announced that Chrysler Group, which had profits of at least $1 billion per quarter for years, was expected to lose $500 million during the quarter. Stuttgart's reaction was swift; James D. Donlon was moved from corporate controller to Chrysler Group controller, ordering $2 billion in cuts to take place over the second half of fiscal 2000. The publicity surrounding these moves may have helped Chrysler sales to drop 7.4% during the following month, while the industry as a whole dropped just 1%.
In October, DaimlerChrysler used some of the Chrysler cash reserve to purchase Global Electric Motorcars, which makes short-distance electric minicars. These little vehicles, which can go at slow-city speeds (about 25-30 mph), are legal in about half the states in the US, and quality for nonpolluting vehicle credits. G.E.M. makes about 5,000 per year.
Later that month, Juergen Schrempp, DaimlerChrysler CEO, said that he had always intended Chrysler to be a division of Daimler-Benz AG. He freely admitted to lying about his intentions and about the "merger of equals" concept. A Detroit News article on the same day noted the tactlessness of spending $5 million on a New York office at the same time Chrysler was laying off needed staff.
In November, Dieter Zetsche replaced James Holden as Chrysler Group chief. DCX blamed slow sales on lack of new product, then cut Chrysler Group new product investment from $48 billion to $36 billion. The Neon was to be dropped in 2004 (and was). The full size SUV was dropped and the next-generation LH (LX) was scaled back from five planned vehicles to two (a third was added two years later).
Rumors in November were that much of Chrysler's financial problem was due to accounting tricks. Mercedes engineers were, some claimed, charging Chrysler counterparts for consulting time; and the retooling costs to use Mercedes diesels was also an issue. Changes to dealer contracts in Germany were being opposed by German Chrysler dealers. [DaimlerChrysler later cancelled contracts with all 240 German dealers.]
In late November, billionaire greenmailer Kirk Kerkorian hit DCX with a $9 billion lawsuit, claiming that Schrempp "fraudulently" led shareholders to vote for the deal based on Schrempp’s own admission. A judge eventually dismissed the case, saying Kerkorian should have known, with his experience, when others were lying.
The highly successful SCORE program was dropped, and Chrysler demanded that suppliers slash prices by 15% across the board.
The year 2000 was the bellweather for the Daimler takeover. Chrysler started out immensely successful, and ended up being seen as a basket case, with steadily declining sales, miraculously disappearing profits, and a massive influx of Daimler executives as talented Chrysler people left. The next seven years would bring more of the same, each year, shrinking Chrysler’s size and capabilities and diminishing its reputation further each year.
In racing, for the first time ever, an American production car won the 24 hour Daytona Beach race. All Dodge Viper cars finished, taking spots 1, 3, 5, 6, and 7. Team Viper cars outlasted cars fielded by Ferrari, Ford, Chevrolet, BMW, and Porsche. Vipers have also won the past three FIA-GT and American LeMans series races. The Corvette had been trying to win for 47 years, and a stock production Dodge won the race.
Dodge Vipers also finished 1-2-3 on March 18 at the 12 hour racing at Sebring, beating Corvettes, Porsches, and other cars. Drivers said they never had to push the car to the limits.
Richard Petty’s team joined Dodge’s Winston Cup effort, with three cars, two of which were driven by Pettys. Other Dodge teams were Bill Davis Racing and Ray Evernham.
The Dodge Viper finished 3rd, 4th, and 8th overall in the race at Adelaide, Australia, taking a 1-2-3 win in the GTS class. Vipers were ahead of the Cadillac prototypes (20th and 21st position), the Audi R8, and even the Panoz LMP-1. 25 cars were at the standing grid, and all finished. Following that victory, Dodge announced that the Viper would be temporarily withdrawn from Lemans.