Inspection- No Need to Go On Auto 3… Saving Chrysler

Fiat?

Fiat???

In 1958 Bill Carman walked into the car pool at American Maize on Park Avenue. As a representative he had just been given the right to have a new car every two years. Gas bills: paid. Maintenance: paid. Hell, even our restaurant bills were paid. That’s the reward when you invent the first successful recipes for now common day staples like liquid coffee creamer, to be handed over without any credit to companies like Richs as if they created them.

He wanted to know from the head of the car pool; the man who held the keys, of the three offered: GM’s Chevy, Ford and Chrysler’s Plymouth, which was the best. He had miles to go; both business and pleasure, and couldn’t afford to find himself and his family of five and a half stuck between Squimsquat and Podunksville. (I’m counting Gordie, the border collie; named after Gordie the dog catcher.)

“Well, I wouldn’t go near the Fords. The Chevys are OK. But we’re getting good reports on the Plymouths for the most part.”

I have mixed feelings about Chrysler Corp., the parent company. We had a new Plymouth station wagon every two years for the rest of the 50s, almost all of the 60s, and half of the 70s. They took my father all over the east coast; to places far enough to drive in a day or two. (For the rest he would fly: well over a million miles a year sometimes.) The Plymouths were mostly reliable and took us, some years, almost every weekend to our camp on Twitchell that soon became home. That’s closing in on a thousand miles a week some months not including business, if you add all the running around we did in the Adirondacks.

Never a break down that I recall. There were certainly plenty of opportunities when I was there to observe.

Though my family had great luck with Plymouths, the surviving parent company; Chrysler, hasn’t fared much better when it comes to keeping me from seeing obvious; glaring faults. Our 55 Dodge Royale was “OK;” kind of blase’, but well made. Chrysler does seem to add more “quirk” to their products than the other two, which can be annoying.

But I suppose with Chrysler it’s more company policy that drove me into not driving their product most of my adult life. When we considered buying a PT Cruiser, we experienced first hand Chrysler’s (intentional?) hands off the dealers policy. An advertised 17 grand plus change quickly turned into 26, even 30, when greedy dealers decided their company’s sales pitch meant nothing. Chrysler backed them up. I noticed on the company website they had a single answer for E-mails and letters from the multitude of outraged consumers, “We don’t control the dealers.”

Um, sure you do. Tell them that if they don’t sell your cars for something close to the advertised price they’ll no longer be dealers. What, they’re going to say. “Oh, to hell with that,” change all their advertising, all their signs, hire new mechanics, their company name and legal concerns, dump their current inventory and buy new inventory?

Well, tis Easter-time. Miracles are reported to have happened.

2,000 years ago.

Only a year ago we bought our first American vehicle in a damn long time: a totally convertible, four door Jeep. You know, the kind where you lift the windows out. So far… not bad. So I do have some personal interest in Chrysler surviving. But…

Fiat?

Fiat???

OK, they’re solvent, or recently so. They do have models with gas savings not featured by Chrysler. But reliability? Well, let’s just say they haven’t been noted for it in the past, that’s for sure. My cousin Theron had a series of Fiats and Renaults during the 70s and the 60s. He agreed with my father’s observation who referred to them as, “Two year flip mobiles.” He said they were always in the shop.

I understand that the 60s and the 70s were a long time ago, or so I’ve been told. My how time slips by when you’re having… well, not sure exactly which of the vast multitude of horrid to wonderful descriptives to use here. They all seem appropriate.

I’m also more than nervous about “partnering.” Some of the worst vehicles in American history have been created when, instead of keeping content as much in-house as possible, they became some bastardized collection of outsourced parts. Motorhomes have made this a specialty. I firmly believe, from my experience, all motorhomes are made in Hell by Satan. But there will be partnering here, if Chrysler is to survive.

But, if there must be… isn’t there a better company than Fiat? Why is it nothing I have read treats Fiats as anything close to the kind of reliable vehicles the Japanese eventually turned their junkier 60s/70s cars into? Nothing I have read claims the new cars no longer deserve the reputation. Remember the car that didn’t go, Yugo: a joke that would be tiresome if it weren’t so true? Based on a Fiat platform. And the final bullet in the Italian engine block: Fiat left America with their tails tucked into their tailpipe.

So, once again… Fiat?

Fiat??

I do understand Fiat is a company with a long history, and I’m sure every Fiat didn’t suck its own tailpipe backwards; committing automotive suicide. So, OK, if we must do Fiat, let me make a suggestion: partner with a third company.

How about International, better known now as Navistar?

They certainly have had experience in the Jeep-like vehicle field. They made damn good trucks. We owned one of the slant 4 trucks and a good friend had a Scout he beat the hell out of. The Adirondack League Club which has thousands of acres where they use four wheel vehicles year after year over rough terrain and harsh conditions relied on Scouts and Willys. Some days their lives depended on them when an accident cried for a rush to the health center in Old Forge over stumps, deep snow and swamp-like conditions. The International Scout was every bit competition for the Willys Jeep: perhaps better.

As far as forwards looking… who had an SUV not all that unlike a 4-wheeldrive Element or Highlander on the drawing board that almost went into production; long before the term SUV was widely used? International. Except for making an example for show, it really never left the drawing board and went into production. You see back when the American car companies weren’t in this much trouble, IHC decided they would rather go back to what they sold best: semis. It was part of a divesting of many product lines they were into at the time, and they didn’t have Big Daddy government demanding what they do it. They had enough sense to do it themselves. Unlike the majors, they knew just dumping their own versions corporate of Olds or Plymouth wouldn’t do. That’s wise management: something we desperately need so that the American workers in the automotive industry can remain employed. I have no beef with them: but lots with management.

I do believe that it might help to make a triad here, partner-wise, though I’m not claiming my plan doesn’t have some glaring problems. Navistar is more than a few years down the road from being the maker of trucks for the common consumer IHC once was. They have had recent accounting problems, though mostly dealing the government claiming certain forms must be filed vs. what the company they hired (then fired) to do their books thought they didn’t have to file.

But, hey, the decision making of many execs in the auto industry has been far worse. Chrysler is considering divesting themselves of Jeep? You’re kidding, right? Your most popular brand that you went of the way to get: taking over American Motors just to dump the rest of the product line so you can have Jeep?

That really is a bad idea.

Now they’re also dropping the PT.

A very popular car. What are they actually keeping, the over-sized 500 that looks like it’s about to devour little children, kittens and puppies? You know, then one with that ill-proportioned; uglier than an obese run over possum grill?

I hope we can save Chrysler, and not just because of our Jeep. As much as I have ragged on GM, and even considering personal promises to myself never to buy a car from any company named Ford that would make something remotely like the Pinto, I do hope all three survive. But I doubt they will, at least in present form. That’s why Auto Inspection led to Auto 2 and Auto 3.

Hell, if I had my way we’d go back to the days when we had Stude, Packard, (Or at least both after they joined), Franklin, Stutz, Pierce Arrow, Duesenberg, Marmon, Kaiser (before or after Willys), Peerless, Willys and Crosley; or just many new companies.

There will always be failed attempts like Bricklin where it was so poorly designed they seriously considered drilling holes in the floor to let out the leakage, or the somewhat better DeLorean. Then we have Tesla who seems intent on taking electric cars into an era where only the rich can afford them, or Avanti which seems intent on reviving an old marquee as made only for the well to do. And making a car then marketing it is not like the days when you could slap everything together and sell locally. Pollution, safety and gas sipping considerations alone mean one hell of an investment.

But back to Walter P’s old company…

If they go with just Fiat, I fear one less American car company is what we’ll have. Hell, whether Navistar becomes part of the mix or not, I suspect Fiat will eventually be more ball and chain than a help. Fiat has been made solvent and I applaud. But taking that brief success and then acting as if Fiat has always been on the up and up; financially and quality-wise, is like partying with an alcoholic with a full bar in the room while turning our backs. It will take time a long time to see if “solvency” doesn’t equal “fluke.”

Are there any competent execs left in the American auto industry? Sometimes… I think not. If you’re going to come begging for government funds: and this absolutely goes for the banking industry too, the government has a right to make demands; including tossing the captain to the sharks without any bonus or handsome “retirement” package.

Of course, if you listen to management and their media-pundit sympathizers, it’s all the union’s fault. Right.

The captain of the Titanic was a respectable, talented, man who wasn’t warned in time. I wish the same could be said of execs who will probably sink talented underlings down into the depths of automotive history, and probably blame them on the way down.

-30-

Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 30 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.

Copyright 2009
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
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