Commentary Magazine


Contentions

An Inconsistent Car Company Goes Bankrupt

On Tuesday, my lament regarding GM’s decision to kill Pontiac brought a surprising number of car enthusiasts out of the CONTENTIONS woodwork. So, with that in mind, I present my purely aesthetic reaction to Chrysler’s declaration of bankruptcy.

My immediate — and, again, purely aesthetic — reaction is indifference. Chrysler was, after all, a car company that was hard to get excited about — mostly because it consistently failed to get its branding straight during the past two decades.

In this vein, it spent most of the 1990s producing car models that were nearly impossible to distinguish from one another — brownie points for anyone who can honestly tell the difference between a Chrysler Imperial and a Chrysler Fifth Avenue, or between a Chrysler Concorde and a Chrysler Sebring. And then there were the cars that were impossible to confuse, such as the remarkably ugly first-generation Chrysler LHS, or the please-don’t-pick-me-up-from-soccer-baseball-practice-in-that-thing Chrysler Town and Country.

Yet the company really lost me after it merged with Daimler in 1998 and began producing the popular PT Cruiser — not an ugly car per se, but a bit too German-looking for its American heritage. The briefly-produced Plymouth Prowler also seemed strangely out of place with Chrysler’s other offerings — it was almost too distinctive, particularly when it came in eggplant (and even more so when Gene Simmons was in it).

Chrysler’s Dodge division similarly suffered from inconsistent branding. Indeed, after decades of producing downright ordinary cars, such as the Stratus and Neon, Dodge finally put together a decent line-up. Check out the Caliber, Avenger, Journey, and Charger — nice-looking cars that were unified by a potentially iconic quadripartite grille. Unfortunately, it was all too late: having already jumped to equally unexciting Toyotas (zzzzz) during Dodge’s long era of boringness, Americans failed to notice Dodge’s sudden stylistic resurgence.

Of course, one Chrysler division deserves praise for its consistent excellence: Jeep, which was the first mass-market off-road vehicle and the catalyst of the SUV craze. (I have fond memories of riding in my aunt’s Grand Cherokee.) Still, Jeep suffered from a major non-aesthetic defect — poor fuel economy, which became a major liability as gas prices skyrocketed last summer.

Given Chrysler’s historic inconsistencies, it’s hard to know what we can expect now that it has merged with Fiat. Will it suddenly produce an Italian-looking model, much as it produced the German-looking PT Cruiser upon merging with Daimler? Will it still offer Jeeps? (Probably.) Will it still produce Dodge sedans? And, if it doesn’t, will anyone notice?


Join the discussion…

Are you a subscriber? Log in to comment »

Not a subscriber? Join the discussion today, subscribe to Commentary »





Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.