Cars by name
Trucks and Jeeps

Engines / Trans
Repairs / Fixes
Tests and Reviews


2018 Wrangler JL: first test

The B engines

Surprise test: Hyundai Elantra vs Dodge Dart

Trying to Save Chrysler: The 1972 White Paper

In October 1972, a group of product planners led by Burton Bouwkamp tried to change the future of Chrysler Corporation. Even though the 1973 oil crisis was still in the future, they knew the company was headed for trouble.

product planning group

In 2017, Burton Bouwkamp remembered:

In 1973, I had been in the Director of Product Planning job for five years. In those five years, it became obvious to me that the Corporation was on a path to oblivion.

My department was thinking out five yers, but the top management’s thinking regarding Chrysler’s future was the next quarter and annual financial statements.

Without articulating it, our management’s market plan was to get 15% of the automobile market segments created by GM and Ford. This required products in every market segment, but we didn’t have the financial or technical resources to field competitive products in all these segments.

1973 dodges

The group created a white paper in 1972, which worked its way through management into 1973, trying to convince corporate leaders to “either ‘man up’ to become a total market competitor, or lower our market coverage sights and become a niche player.”

What was in the white paper? First, an introductory letter, noting that...

The Corporation continues to push for product plans that are beyond what our technical resources can do with a GM or Ford level of execution. This has, and will continue to, result in mediocre products in the hands of our owners. We are still trying, however!

Marketing (L. Piconke) has now joined us. Their current strategy is “being best is more important than being first.” A revised long range plan is now being formulated and will be a new opportunity to implement this philosophy.

burt bouwkamp 1964

The long range product plan objective:

Approval of a plan that can be done “on time” and with a level of appearance and functional execution that will result in competitive and profitable products that meet owner expectations for quality, reliability, and cost of ownership.

They showed owner loyalty by corporation, along with the ability to take customers from competitors. GM was king in loyalty, with a 1973 loyalty rate of 77% — compared with Ford at 60% and Chrysler at 55% (AMC brought up the rear at 38%). They looked at overall satisfaction and specific elements that contributed to it, including some that could be measured objectively (where generally Chrysler did well).

1973 Plymouth brochure

Buyers tended to rate the appearance of the Chrysler products lower than the GM and Ford counterparts (notable exceptions being the Plymouth Duster, at the top of its class, and the Satellite Custom).

Four executives from different departments listed their top five specific priorities; several listed their top five. R. S. Baxter pointed to wind noise, squeaks and rattles, water leaks, window operation, and fuel economy. R.H. Kline (Service) agreed on wind noise and window operation, but added starting/driveability, and electrical and air conditioning reliability. L. B. Bornhauser from Quality and Reliability agreed on noise, but added appearance (e.g. solder joints, loose metal) radio fidelity, owner maintenance, serviceability, and electrical reliability. W.E. Drinkard (Engineering) started with noise, and added control and body mechanism operation, appearance of interior trim, interior comfort (e.g. temperature regulation), and directional stability.

That said, the main conclusion was:

WHATEVER PRODUCTS WE DO,
WE MUST DO THEM AT LEAST AS WELL
AS FORD AND GENERAL MOTORS.

Or, they said, to match their product plan to their ability to design and build cars, with the goal of reaching the right level of:

Specifically, they proposed new product planning objectives, to replace the de facto of matching whatever GM and Ford did:

The white paper was meant to change how product planning was done — not to alter engineering methods.

What happened next

The paper was presented to top management individually in 1972 and 1973, but was never formally approved or implemented by a corporate committee. In the end, “We struggled on until Lee Iacocca came onboard in 1978. Lee understood the problem and pointed Chrysler in a new direction. ... unfortunately, after his wife died, our leader Lee Iacocca developed other interests and was subsequently replaced by Bob Eaton. You know the rest of the story.”

What would have happened if Chrysler leaders had taken the white paper seriously? The company would still have been hit hard by the 1973 fuel crisis, but rather than trying to succeed in impossible markets, they could have implemented the minivan project then developing in the design studios; most likely, the Volare and Aspen would have been held back for one more year, resulting in an immense savings and preventing a quality-reputation disaster.

volare record

It’s quite possible, indeed, that by saving money on unnecessary cars (e.g. the R bodies) and on quality nightmares (e.g. the R bodies and F bodies), Chrysler may never have needed a government rescue, and might have even been able to hold onto its profitable European and Australian holdings. Without the bad reputation caused by its visible quality disasters coupled with a government bailout, Chrysler could likely have profited from its investment in minivans and front wheel drive cars (the Horizon and Reliant would almost certainly have still appeared).

Had this road been followed, Chrysler Corporation could still be in business today, as an independent corporation — the acquirer, rather than the acquired.

The proposal was one of many points where the history of Chrysler Corporation could have changed, avoiding its downfall — but that’s a matter of speculation today.


Back to the Chrysler 100

Kidde fire-extinguisher recall and Ram RVs
mack engine
Silver Mack

More Mopar Car
and Truck News