(first posted 10/10/2016) Unlike Ford, Chrysler Corporation was raking in the profits as the 1997 model year got underway. Seemingly, the biggest issue for Mopar was keeping corporate raiders at bay. Working on quality would have been good too… Nonetheless, Chrysler had a very good looking line-up of products, and continued as the lowest cost U.S. producer. Read on to see what Automobile Magazine had to say about the new product news from the Pentastar.
Lee Iacocca apparently was not taking well to retirement. Lido was longing to get back in the car game in order to once again slap extra chrome and vinyl tops on those slippery Chrysler products, so he teamed up with Las Vegas financier Kirk Kerkorian and tried to buy the company (no doubt with the intention of putting himself back at the helm). Chrysler management viewed the bid as hostile and successfully fended off the takeover attempt. Independence was short-lived, however, as Bob Eaton would soon be selling the whole company to Daimler-Benz, extinguishing a great run for Detroit’s perennial comeback kid.
One of Chrysler Corporation’s strengths during the 1990s was its streamlined team structure (actually an AMC approach) that eliminated layers of bureaucracy and encouraged risk taking. As a result, Chrysler’s stylists developed some beauties during this era, and even with the limitations inherent in Chrysler’s low cost approach, the teams were able to work wonders in crafting appealing products. The perpetual Achilles Heel was quality, or lack thereof, but Chrysler was quite close to world class greatness in terms of interesting designs.
At the Chrysler division, the Sebring Convertible was one of the biggest stars: with 50,814 drop tops produced, Chrysler led the industry in open-air motoring. The Town & Country also demonstrated that the market for “premium” minivans was a strong one, while the Dodge Caravan/Grand Caravan continued its run as America’s most popular minivan.
Eagle would fly the coop after 1997. No great loss, since it had never soared anyway, merely being an uncoordinated amalgam of Mitsubishi and Chrysler products for Jeep dealers to sell. Not that Jeep needed much help anyway, SUVs were hot and that played to Jeep’s strength. Even the 13-year-old Cherokee found plenty of takers, while the Wrangler regained round headlamps and remained evergreen as an iconic American vehicle. Plymouth was pretty much starved of unique products at this point, wacky Prowler excepted. The low-cost entry point into Chrysler ownership had pretty much outlived its usefulness…
Total Chrysler Corporation sales were up slightly for 1997, ending the year at 2,335,496 units. While still ranked 3rd from the Big Three and about 1.5 million units behind 2nd place Ford Motor Company, Mopar remained comfortably ahead of Japanese rivals. Plus, Chrysler Corporation was basically tied with Chevrolet/GEO in 1997 output, a feat that was unthinkable in 1977 or 1987. Here are the sales breakdowns by Mopar division:
|Town & Country||76,653|
David E. Davis served up a quick added blurb on the new Dakota. Ironically, the newly updated “mid size” Dakota was pretty close size-wise to what had been the pickup standard in the 1960s and 1970s. Still, it’s “mini-Ram” styling was handsome and aggressive and it made for a nice “personal use” truck. In the 1990s, pickup trucks took on a whole new meaning, becoming style statements as much as anything, almost like a “personal luxury” vehicle for a new decade.
Of course we’ll never know where an independent Chrysler would have gone next. 1997 represented the end of an era: the so-called “merger of equals” would smother the “good” aspects of Chrysler, like clever, forward-looking designs, while exacerbating the “bad” aspects, like poor build quality and cheap materials.
Hot, hot hot! That was Chrysler in the 90s. One they really got right in this era was the minivan. They dominated their segment as never before or since in these years with a product far superior to anything else (with the nagging issue of the glass transmission, however.)
It was sad to watch Plymouth heading into the box canyon from which it would never emerge.
525,000 is a LOT of minivans. Combined with Jeep and pickups, MoPar’s “trucks” made for 65% of total sales.
Passenger car sales probably matter even less today.
This really was Peak Chrysler, and seeing these in comparison with GM and Ford makes me all the sadder that we never got to see a natural progression of Mopar products as the generations aged and were refined. There were plenty of problems, for sure (Transmissions, the awful 2.7 V6 and so on), but people who’d never looked at Chrysler before were shopping these models, and buying. 7 years later when I shopped Stratus and Liberty there was practically nothing on my local dealer’s lot that I found interesting. What a waste of great momentum and potential.
I always think in Chrysler as a company, Dodge is the strongest brand with more products and resource ( aimed higher than Plymouth and larger volume than Chrysler ) but looks like these days FIAT wants to break up Dodge into RAM and weaken the remaining products line. However if they decided to discontinue Dodge, Ram products could still be rebranded as Dodge in the future, at least by some dealers.
Even though it’s legally FCA, FCA LLC, FCA US LLC, Pentastar still presents the products in parts ( in the form of Mopar ) and dealership.
It’s obvious that FCA has too many brands to deal with, just as GM did fifteen years ago. Despite this, FCA has several obvious holes in their lineup (i.e. where’s the mainstream luxury cars to compete with BMW/Benz/Audi/Lexus?). They know by now that filling those brands with GM-style badge-engineered clones of each other doesn’t work, but they also don’t have enough different vehicles to give each one a significant portfolio. So here we have Chrysler selling only two models (300 and Pacifica – the 200 is being discontinued). Alfa Romeo sells only one car in the US, soon to be joined by a second. Dodge fills two roles: one is entry-level cars for price-sensitive customers and fleets – Plymouth’s old role – and larger, traditional American style sedans, coupes, and muscle cars (Charger and Challenger). Fiat has three 500 variants that most people probably don’t realize are mostly unrelated, and a MX-5 Miata-based 124 Spyder, none of which are strong sellers. Curious where FCA is going with all of this.
With Dart gone, Dodge has no “entry-level cars” anymore. Supposedly the Fiat 500 series is to take that role.
Even back in these ‘glory days’, Plymouth brand was faded and forgotten, mainly known for the vans and the same Neon as Dodge. Breeze was a de-contented Stratus, why bother? The die hards wanted to see return of Road Runner, Cuda, etc, but with then that Dodge’s role.
The amazing thing is that Chrysler actually REALIZED they had something good, and kept building it.
In previous decades Chrysler’s business model was the Customer Loyalty Torture Test.
“This car is selling like hotcakes! Let’s replace it with something unspeakably horrible and see if the customers will stick with us.”
Talon TSi AWD pretty please.
God hard to believe this was all right before the Germans sent everything to Hades. I was living in Detroit around the time Dieter Zetsche was sent to Auburn Hills to become Chrysler CEO. During his first week one of the local radio stations tried to send him a welcome gift basket of Michigan’s finest German/Bavarian products but were politely turned away.
My wife’s first car, purchased in 2000, was a ’95 Talon TSi. I’m more than a little jealous, as she wasn’t a car person in the slightest, and yet had a car that was faster than anything I’ve ever owned (her Dad picked it out). I’m also sad that it was written off before we met so I never got to drive it (replaced by the infamous Alero).
We had a Sebring convertible of approximately this vintage as my wife’s daily driver. It wasn’t a terrible car and we didn’t keep it long enough for things to start going wrong (my wife started having some knee issues and found getting in and out to be a problem). Ours had the 2.7 V6 which seemed adequate to me on the occasions that I drove the car. Given the reputations that these cars earned as time went on I suspect that we would have had things to complain about but for the couple of years and 20,000 miles that we drove it the Sebring was okay.
Owned a 1997 Sebring Convertible for 14 years… Longest term ownership of any vehicle in my life. It was comfortable, handled well enough had a roomy interior, even in the back seat (The only Cab-forward convertible on the market) it was also dependable, never broke down and other than wear items and timely maintenance, never required shop time. it is (I sold it to a friend after those 14 years and it is still going strong) in “Forest Green” with the ‘Silver fern” interior, a V-6 JX with all the JXI items but fog lights. Only on it’s second top and now has, according to my friend 140K on the clock. I know thay acquired a rep as the darlings of the rental fleet, but so what, Chevy Impalas of the 50s and 60s were, also. As a collectible, well, Being a convertible might help… but I believe any of the cab Forward designs of MOPAR in the 90s deserve some recognition. Would love to see the design ethos return.
This is depressing. It was a good time to be a Moparhead in 1997; I was a senior in college that year, I had just gotten a new 1996 Ram pickup as an early graduation present, and I even wrote a term paper for a marketing class on the comeback success of Chryco and got an A. Chrysler was at the top of their game in the mid to late 90s until Eaton sold them out. As a Mopar fan, a little piece of me died when they sold out to the Germans.
Today I have little to no use for whatever is left of the company and other than a new Challenger or maybe a pickup wouldn’t consider any of their vehicles.
Our 1996 New Yorker is still going strong at 98,000 miles. Has the original transmission, too ! The secret is regular fluid and filter changes. Easy long distance cruiser thanks to 3.5L V6, and handles the curves with standard sport suspension.
The LH cars were nicely styled and roomy cars spoiled somewhat by Chrysler quality and details. I test drove a blue 1996 Intrepid with the 3.5 and the bucket seat package and was expecting to really like it. Sadly the road noise, the poor headlights at night, a cheap rattly interior and poor fit and finish drove me into a 1996 Lumina instead which I put well over 100K miles on with no issues at all. It was pretty telling that the interior door seals were shrinking with gaps large enough to put your hand into on the Dodge!
Well, if Marchionne decide to sell Dodge, Chrysler and Mopar; the company could rise again as MMC (Mopar Motors Corporation) and perhaps become an American company again. Just kidding but it would be interesting.
Peak Chrysler indeed. I ended up owning three vehicles represented on these pages, a ’95 Concorde, a ’99 Town & Country, and a Dakota derived ’02 Durango.
I have not been back to the Chrysler well since these times.
It was sad day when Chrysler succumbed to takeover. I wonder what they had on their drawing boards?
The glove box of my ’02 Durango sports a “Chrysler Corporation” build sticker. I have to wonder of there weren’t a few renegade employees still ordering supplies of Pentastar stuff.
Pentastar label would be somewhere anyway, and if it doesn’t come from the factory that way, it would appear as Mopar, or dealers would use it on the license plate frame. Anyway, it’s the only recognizable dealer badge!
Some say “top of their game”, but those LH and Cloud cars fell apart quickly and were BHPH fodder. Ram pickups and minivans stuck around.
The Merger was to fend off ‘hostile take-overs’. They wouldn’t have been independent for long, with Jeep as a jewel. If not Daimler, someone else would have came along.
And Plymouth was as tired as an old mare, ready for retirement.
You can say what you want about the cars, Tom, but unless you actually owned some of them I’m not sure you know what you are talking about. You see I owned and daily drove a used Cloud Car for 14 years. Put 220K miles on it and nothing fell apart. No breakdowns, only normal maintenance items. Best car I’ve ever owned in 46 years of driving. It did get some cancer, or body rot, as I live in the rust belt. So what did I do? I searched and found another good one. I’m daily driving a 19-year old Cloud Car I purchased 6 months ago with only 111K miles. It was well cared for and still looks almost showroom new. I’ve taken it up to 119K miles. I can understand you may have not had as good of luck with a similar car, but they were better than what Ford and GM offered. And, were at least equal to, if not better than, the Toyota and Honda cars of the time. As the saying goes, ask the man who’s owned one. Gives a great ride and handling. Has decent interior volume and a quite large and useful trunk. My first one, a manual transmission car, AVERAGED for the life of the car 38 mpg. Economy car mileage in a mid-size sedan. The second one, with the larger 4-cylinder engine, the 2.4L and a 4-speed automatic is averaging 33+ mpg. Oh, and did I mention great visibility all around? No high beltline like so many newer cars. It may lack some of the latest features that people think they need to have, but it works just fine for my needs.
Considering all the head gasket failures, electrical issues and transaxle problems we encountered with these with many going through the auction lines as branded lemons I would tend to agree with Tom. My parents neighbor owned a 1996 Cloud car and it was the single biggest pos they ever owned. None of there GM’s or Ford were nearly as bad including a 1983 Caprice, a 1987 Delta 88 and there sons 1996 Cavalier coupe. Even there 1997 Grand Marquis which replaced the lemon Breeze was superior from a reliability standpoint.
A bright spot in the industry for sure. Lead by a strong product guy.
Hmm, maybe it should have ended up Plymouth-Dodge instead of Chrysler-Dodge.
As a car guy back when the takeover occurred, I was shocked and blown away it happened. I remember walking into work, glancing at a newspaper machine and seeing the headline of the takeover. Stopped me dead in my tracks. I always thought Bob Eaton should have been charged with treason for selling out such a large American company to the Germans. I am sure himself and his pals made a fortune financially from the sale – that was what it was all about. Criminal.