Out now: the Autocade Yearbook 2024
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Out now: Autocade Yearbook 2024

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Walter P. Chrysler had arrived at the MaxwellChalmers company in 1921, in a bid to rescue it. The car bearing his name was announced in January 1924, and was well received. In 1925, Maxwell was reorganized into the Chrysler Corporation, phasing out the Maxwell brand. The company was willing to have advanced features in its cars, pushing it to second place among US automakers between 1936 and 1949.

The low-cost Plymouth brand was introduced in 1928, along with the mid-priced DeSoto. Dodge was acquired in July 1928, positioned above DeSoto but below Chrysler (DeSoto and Dodge swapped places in the late 1930s).

Plymouth actually increased its sales during the Great Depression. Chrysler, meanwhile, suffered greatly with its Airflow model of 1934, developed using streamlining principles, as buyers rejected its styling. Chrysler, burned by the Airflow, remained conservative till it embarked on its Forward Look styling theme under Virgil Exner in 1955.

In 1951, Chrysler established its Australian presence after acquiring a body builder in South Australia, and invested in a local plant in that state.

Imperial, once a top Chrysler model, became a brand of its own in 1955. Valiant briefly became a marque for 1960 before being absorbed into Plymouth in 1961, the year DeSoto was withdrawn.

Chrysler, perhaps seeing how GM and Ford had expanded into Europe, went in the same direction in the 1950s and 1960s, acquiring France’s Simca, the UK’s Rootes Group and Spain’s Barreiros, forming Chrysler Europe. Through Simca’s acquisition in 1958, it found itself with Brazilian operations; it later established a venture in Argentina, where Valiants were assembled from the 1960s. The European company was never merged properly, and with Chrysler’s mounting troubles in the 1970s, the European operation was sold off to Peugeot in 1978. The Australian operation was sold to Mitsubishi and the South American operations to Volkswagen.

Chrysler, lacking small cars in the 1970s, sold Mitsubishi models under an OEM deal, and the companies continued to cooperate on cars in the next decades.

Things looked dire with Chrysler by the end of the 1970s but it offered the K-car compact and the T-115 minivan, both of which are generally credited for saving the company in the 1980s.

After acquiring AMC in 1987, the old AMC marque was renamed Eagle for 1988, and lasted to 1998; Jeep, part of AMC, became a Chrysler marque. By the 1990s, Chrysler had transformed itself into a lean operation, bringing niche models to market rapidly, though it was heavily reliant on Jeeps and SUVs.

Daimler-Benz AG effectively acquired Chrysler Corp. in 1998, though it was touted in the media as a ‘merger of equals’. However, brand mismanagement saw the cancellation of the Plymouth marque in 2001 and the Chrysler side of things weighed down the merged DaimlerChrysler as a whole. Chrysler was sold to venture capitalists Cerberus in 2007, but the new owner failed to invest much into the business. By the end of 2008, Chrysler was facing bankruptcy, and in mid-2009, Fiat SpA gained control of the US automaker with a 20 per cent stake; 55 per cent of Chrysler was held by the United Auto Workers. After repaying the loans from US and Canadian governments, Fiat increased its share to nearly 50 per cent in 2011.

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Out now: Autocade Yearbook 2024