The Chrysler company was founded by Walter Chrysler (1875–1940) on June 6, 1925, when the Maxwell Motor Company (est. 1904) was re-organized into the Chrysler Corporation.
Walter Chrysler had arrived at the ailing Maxwell-Chalmers company in the early 1920s. He was hired to overhaul the company's troubled operations (after a similar rescue job at the Willys-Overland car company). In late 1923 production of the Chalmers automobile was ended.
In January 1924, Walter Chrysler launched the well-received Chrysler automobile. The Chrysler was a 6-cylinder automobile, designed to provide customers with an advanced, well-engineered car, but at a more affordable price than they might expect. Elements of this car are traceable to a prototype which had been under development at Willys during Chrysler's tenure The original 1924 Chrysler included a carburetor air filter, high compression engine, full pressure lubrication, and an oil filter, features absent from most autos at the time. Among the innovations in its early years were the first practical mass-produced four-wheel hydraulic brakes, a system nearly completely engineered by Chrysler with patents assigned to Lockheed, and rubber engine mounts to reduce vibration. Chrysler also developed a wheel with a ridged rim, designed to keep a deflated tire from flying off the wheel. This wheel was eventually adopted by the auto industry worldwide.
Following the introduction of the Chrysler, the Maxwell brand was dropped after the 1925 model year. The new, lower-priced four-cylinder Chryslers introduced for the 1926 year were badge-engineered Maxwells. The advanced engineering and testing that went into Chrysler Corporation cars helped to push the company to the second-place position in U.S. sales by 1936, a position it would last hold in 1949.
In 1928, the Chrysler Corporation began dividing its vehicle offerings by price class and function. The Plymouth brand was introduced at the low-priced end of the market (created essentially by once again reworking and rebadging Chrysler's four-cylinder model). At the same time, the DeSoto brand was introduced in the medium-price field. Also in 1928, Chrysler bought the Dodge Brothers automobile and truck company and continued the successful Dodge line of automobiles and Fargo range of trucks. By the mid-1930s, the DeSoto and Dodge divisions would trade places in the corporate hierarchy.
1955 Imperial car model shown on display at January 1955 Chicago Auto Show
The Imperial name had been used since 1926, but was never a separate make, just the top-of-the-line Chrysler. In 1955, the company decided to spin it off as its own make and division to better compete with its rivals, Lincoln and Cadillac.
1955 Chrysler - Philco all transistor car radio - "Breaking News" radio broadcast announcement
On April 28, 1955, Chrysler and Philco had announced the development and production of the World's First All-Transistor car radio. The all-transistor car radio, Mopar model 914HR, was developed and produced by Chrysler and Philco, and it was a $150.00 "option" on the 1956 Imperial automobile models. Philco began manufacturing this radio in the fall of 1955 at its Sandusky Ohio plant.
On September 28, 1957, Chrysler had announced the first production electronic fuel injection (EFI), as an option on some of its new 1958 car models (Chrysler 300D, Dodge D500, DeSoto Adventurer, Plymouth Fury). The first attempt to use this system was by American Motors on the 1957 Rambler Rebel. Bendix Corporation's Electrojector used a transistor computer brain modulator box, but teething problems on pre-production cars meant very few cars were made. The EFI system in the Rambler ran fine in warm weather, but suffered hard starting in cooler temperatures and AMC decided not to use this EFI system, on its 1957 Rambler Rebel production cars that were sold to the public. Chrysler also used the Bendix "Electrojector" fuel injection system and only around 35 vehicles were built with this option, on its 1958 production built car models. Owners of EFI Chryslers were so dissatisfied that all but one were retrofitted with carburetors (while that one has been completely restored, with original EFI electronic problems resolved).
Imperial would see new body styles introduced every two to three years, all with V8 engines and automatic transmissions, as well as technologies that would filter down to Chrysler corporation's other models. Imperial was folded back into the Chrysler brand in 1971.
The Valiant was also introduced for 1960 as a distinct brand. In the U.S. market, Valiant was made a model in the Plymouth line for 1961 and the DeSoto make was discontinued in 1961. With those exceptions per applicable year and market, Chrysler's range from lowest to highest price from the 1940s through the 1970s was Valiant, Plymouth, Dodge, DeSoto, Chrysler, and Imperial.
The iconic Pentastar logo was used by the Chrysler corporation from 1962 to 1998 as the company symbol. From the 1963 to the 1972 model years, all Chrysler products had a small Pentastar badge. Some products of the flagship Chrysler brand used the Pentastar in the 1980s. The last cars to include the Pentastar were limited editions of the third-generation Plymouth Voyager
. In 1998, after the creation of DaimlerChrysler, Chrysler-branded cars adopted a winged badge and the Pentastar was officially eliminated as a corporate logo, although sporadic use remained. When DaimlerChrysler was dissolved, the new Chrysler adopted again the Pentastar as corporate logo until the creation of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
From 1963 through 1969, Chrysler increased its existing stakes to take full control of the French Simca, British Rootes and Spanish Barreiros companies, merging them into Chrysler Europe in 1967. In the 1970s, an engineering partnership was established with Mitsubishi Motors, and Chrysler began selling Mitsubishi vehicles branded as Dodge and Plymouth in North America.
Chrysler struggled to adapt to the changing environment of the 1970s. When consumer tastes shifted to smaller cars in the early 1970s, particularly after the 1973 oil crisis, Chrysler could not meet the demand. Additional burdens came from increased US import competition, and tougher government regulation of car safety, fuel economy, and emissions. As the smallest of the Big 3 US automakers, Chrysler lacked the financial resources to meet all of these challenges. In 1978, Lee Iacocca was brought in to turn the company around, and in 1979 Iacocca sought US government help. Congress later passed the Loan Guarantee Act providing $1.5 billion in loan guarantees. The Loan Guarantee Act required that Chrysler also obtain $2 billion in concessions or aid from sources outside the federal government, which included interest rate reductions for $650 million of the savings, asset sales of $300 million, local and state tax concessions of $250 million, and wage reductions of about $590 million along with a $50 million stock offering. $180 million was to come from concessions from dealers and suppliers.
After a period of plant closures and salary cuts agreed to by both management and the auto unions, the loans were repaid with interest in 1983. In November 1983, the Dodge Caravan/Plymouth Voyager was introduced, establishing the minivan as a major category, and initiating Chrysler's return to stability.
In 1985, Diamond-Star Motors was created, further expanding the Chrysler-Mitsubishi relationship. In 1987, Chrysler acquired American Motors Corporation (AMC), which brought the profitable Jeep brand under the Chrysler umbrella.
In 1985, Chrysler entered an agreement with AMC to produce Chrysler M platform rear-drive, as well as Dodge Omnis front wheel drive cars, in AMC's Kenosha, Wisconsin plant. In 1987, Chrysler acquired the 47% ownership of AMC that was held by Renault. The remaining outstanding shares of AMC were bought on the NYSE by August 5, 1987, making the deal valued somewhere between US$1.7 billion and US$2 billion, depending on how costs were counted. Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca wanted the Jeep brand, particularly the Jeep Grand Cherokee (ZJ) that was under development, the new world-class manufacturing plant in Bramalea, Ontario, and AMC's engineering and management talent that became critical for Chrysler's future success. Chrysler established the Jeep/Eagle division as a "specialty" arm to market products distinctly different from the K-car-based products with the Eagle cars targeting import buyers. Former AMC dealers sold Jeep vehicles and various new Eagle models, as well as Chrysler products, strengthening the automaker's retail distribution system.
Eurostar, a joint venture between Chrysler and Steyr-Daimler-Puch, began producing the Chrysler Voyager in Austria for European markets in 1992.
In 1998, Chrysler and its subsidiaries entered into a partnership dubbed a "merger of equals" with German-based Daimler-Benz AG, creating the combined entity DaimlerChrysler AG. To the surprise of many stockholders, Daimler acquired Chrysler in a stock swap before Chrysler CEO Bob Eaton retired. It is widely accepted that the merger was needed because of Eaton's lack of planning for Chrysler in the 1990s, to become their own global automotive company. Under DaimlerChrysler, the company was named DaimlerChrysler Motors Company LLC, with its U.S. operations generally called "DCX". The Eagle brand was retired soon after Chrysler's merger with Daimler-Benz in 1998 Jeep became a stand-alone division, and efforts were made to merge the Chrysler and Jeep brands as one sales unit. In 2001, the Plymouth brand was also discontinued.
Eurostar also built the Chrysler PT Cruiser in 2001 and 2002. The Austrian venture was sold to Magna International in 2002 and became Magna Steyr. The Voyager continued in production until 2007, whereas the Chrysler 300C, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Commander were also built at the plant from 2005 to 2010.
On May 14, 2007, DaimlerChrysler announced the sale of 80.1% of Chrysler Group to American private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, L.P., thereafter known as Chrysler LLC, although Daimler (renamed as Daimler AG) continued to hold a 19.9% stake. The economic collapse of 2007 - 2009 pushed the fragile company to the brink. On April 30, 2009, the automaker filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to be able to operate as a going concern, while renegotiating its debt structure and other obligations, which resulted in the corporation defaulting on over $4 billion in secured debts. The U.S. government described the company's action as a "prepackaged surgical bankruptcy".
On June 10, 2009, substantially all of Chrysler's assets were sold to "New Chrysler", organized as Chrysler Group LLC. The federal government provided support for the deal with US$8 billion in financing at near 21%. Under CEO Sergio Marchionne, "World Class Manufacturing" or WCM, a system of thorough manufacturing quality, was introduced and several products re-launched with quality and luxury. The 2010 Jeep Grand Cherokee very soon became the most awarded SUV ever. The Ram, Jeep, Dodge, SRT and Chrysler divisions were separated to focus on their own identity and brand, and 11 major model refreshes occurred in 21 months. The PT Cruiser, Nitro, Liberty and Caliber models (created during DCX) were discontinued. On May 24, 2011, Chrysler repaid its $7.6 billion loans to the United States and Canadian governments. The US Treasury, through the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), invested $12.5 billion in Chrysler and recovered $11.2 billion when the company shares were sold in May 2011, resulting in a $1.3 billion loss. On July 21, 2011, Fiat bought the Chrysler shares held by the US Treasury. The purchase made Chrysler foreign-owned again, this time as the luxury division. The Chrysler 300 was badged Lancia Thema in some European markets (with additional engine options), giving Lancia a much needed replacement for its flagship.
On January 21, 2014, Fiat bought the remaining shares of Chrysler owned by the VEBA worth $3.65 billion. Several days later, the intended reorganization of Fiat and Chrysler under a new holding company, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, together with a new FCA logo were announced. The most challenging launch for this new company came immediately in January 2014 with a completely redesigned Chrysler 200. The vehicle's creation is from the completely integrated company, FCA, executing from a global compact-wide platform.
On 16 December 2014, Chrysler Group LLC announced a name change to FCA US LLC.
On 12 January 2017, FCA US LLC shares plunged after the EPA accused it of using emissions cheating software to evade diesel-emissions tests, however the company countered the accusations, and the chairman and CEO Sergio Marchionne sternly rejected them. The following day, shares rose as investors played down the effect of the accusations. Analysts gave estimates of potential fines from several hundred million dollars to $4 billion, although the likelihood of a hefty fine was low. Senior United States Senator Bill Nelson urged the FTC to look into possible deceptive marketing of the company's diesel-powered SUVs. Shares dropped 2.2% after the announcement.