(Editors Note: This post was started to be in the series of the American Story of the Car alongside Dodge and Ford, but although all these companies have become multinational, that seems to be the Chrysler model of business. As you’ll soon see, the make some good cars and have had success, but they’re harder to classify as an American car Company.)
Fiat Chrysler might be reminiscent of the Chrysler building in New York – huge, imposing and with a certain amount of style. The cynic might also suggest that the Chrysler building has less wholesome things in common with the cars, such as being overpriced (in common with the rest of New York?) and a product of another era. But, as said above, this is a cynic’s view.
There a number of quite individualistic vehicles which come under the Fiat Chrysler brand, so how did it get to where it is?
The Fiat part of the company could be described as the oldest. The Fiat 4 HP sounds like it might be a twentieth century vehicle, maybe a SUV? But no, it was created in 1899 and looked more like a baby buggy than a modern Fiat car. A more noticeable thing is that it had no reverse gear, so parking would have been troublesome.
Standing for Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino (Italian Factory of Cars, Turin) Fiat soon became the biggest automobile manufacturer in Europe. In 1970 they were employing 100,000 people. As well as cars they have also built such items as railway carriages, farm tractors and planes. Outside Italy, the biggest base for Fiat is Brazil where it is described as the market leader in manufacture.
The Chrysler part took over from the Maxwell Company in 1925 when it was founded by Walter Chrysler. He spent his defining years working as a railway mechanic before going into the motor trade (his father was also a locomotive engineer). The company in turn took over such brand vehicles as Dodge, Jeep and Ram as well as Fargo Trucks. In the 1960s the brand was taking over the Spanish, French and British car companies.
The takeover of Mitsubishi occurred in 1970s and in the late 1998 the company merged with Daimler-Benz . Both Daimler and Benz have a long history, Benz goes back to 1886 (before teaming up with the “more famous” Mercedes) while Daimler was spending that period of history converting stagecoaches with Wilhelm Maybach.
Although it was now a member of the Big Three companies, it didn’t stop Chrysler suffering losses in the crisis between 2008 and 2010 and had to be bailed out. This could be described as controversial; not all governments would top up their factories, especially for a non-nationalized company. A marketing slogan at the time was “Let’s Refuel America” but it seemed they were in need of a vital top up themselves…
The companies of Fiat and Chrysler were merged in May 2014. There is still a huge variety in vehicles under the label – foreign cars such as the Maserati and Lancia, as well as more American cars such as the Jeep or the Ram van. What they lose in a complete brand image, they make up for being all-encompassing.
What seems certain is that Fiat-Chrysler will continue to merge with and take over new car brands. It’s all about survival. And, in essence, finding what sort of car the American public wishes to own.