Chrysler, the smallest of the three remaining U.S.-headquartered auto makers, has announced that they will be closing all 30 of their manufacturing plants for at least one month. I am particularly saddened by this and the other recent developments in the U.S. auto industry. I’ve owned one Chrysler product—a 1998 Chrysler Cirrus sedan—and it was a fine car. I bought it with about 22,000 miles on it, and drove it up into the mid-60,000 range. It had a few problems, but relatively minor ones given its age in years and miles. It was light-years ahead of my two preceding cars—both Mercury Sables (1988 and 1994) made by the Ford Motor Company. I also drove a 1978 Jeep J-10 ‘Honcho’ pickup, but it was made before Jeep (and its parent company, AMC) were purchased by Chrysler.
When I first started looking to replace our oldest car (an Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera), based on a generally positive Chrysler experience, I looked at other Chrysler products. I looked at the Dodge Charger and the Stratus, and while they were each decent cars they were priced much higher than comparably equipped Honda Accords and Civics. Thus, the Hondas became our finalists and we eventually settled on the 2006 Civic (which Melissa still drives today). When we looked to replace our Chrysler with an SUV, I had been hoping to find a Jeep but their overpriced nature on the ‘used’ market (and questionable reliability) led us to the Ford-manufactured 2002 Mazda Tribute, which wasn’t bad, and then ultimately to our new 2008 Subaru Outback.
But I’ve had a Chrysler soft-spot for a long time. Their style and quality (for some models, anyway) during the late 1990s was great, and I was optimistic that the misrepresented ‘merger of equals’ that made DaimlerChrysler would make them even better. It didn’t. Despite a win with the Chrysler 300 and its brother the Dodge Charger, many of their other recent designs—particularly the horrible Chrysler Sebring—need a lot of work and they’ve diluted the Jeep brand with embarrassments like the Compass and the [salvageable] Patriot.
When Chrysler was brought back under American ownership as the new Chrysler LLC, I was again optimistic. A private owner—not beholden to shareholders or unions or, really, anybody but themselves—seemed like a wonderful opportunity for my favorite automotive underdog. But they missed every opportunity to break the abusive UAW contracts, and made small, incremental product changes but no major improvements. All-in-all, Chrysler LLC is failing (for no obvious reason) just like DaimlerChrysler and the previously-independent Chrysler did.
All that can save them now is Chapter 11, and even that isn’t a sure thing.