What is Chrysler? What makes it unique?
These are questions I have asked heads-of-the-Chrysler-brand, without getting particularly useful answers, much less consistent ones. They can hardly be blamed. Nobody seems to have known what Chrysler is, what makes it unique, perhaps since Walter P. Chrysler was in charge. After all, it was Walter—or WPC—who decided that the four-cylinder Maxwell would be better off as the Chrysler Four. That decision didn’t last long (it became the Plymouth after a year), but it shows that even its creator didn’t always have a consistent feel for the brand.
Chrysler vet Al Gardner, when he ran the brand, pointed to the 90 years of history and called it “a mainstream brand built on design, craftsmanship, technology, performance, and value.” This may be the best definition we’ll get. He pointed out that Chrysler has run the gamut, “through near premium, premium, back to mainstream. And every time we come back to mainstream…”
He pointed to 2005-06, with the PT Cruiser, Town & Country, Sebring, 300, Pacifica, and Aspen in the lineup, selling around 800,000 cars a year; “That’s what this brand is supposed to be.” However, while Chrysler might be mainstream in his view, there should be a difference: “design, craftsmanship, and technology as the key pillars.” He pointed to the 300: “It’s priced mainstream, but it does not look mainstream.”
Saad Chebad talked about the pillars of the brand when he took over as its chief. His pillars were being truthful—it’s a Detroit brand, not a luxury brand, but it “gives you style, gives you power, gives you the amenities.” The cars are “not just flashy for stunt purposes,” with timeless styling. Overall, he said, “we have to maintain the truthfulness of who we are as an American, non-compromise premium brand…. Chrysler brand is about humble beginnings with success stories…we want to do the best of the best with no compromise whatsoever from a convenient content luxuries.”
What does Chrysler mean to people, according to Chebad back in 2013? People “graduate from another brand called a Dodge. They say I want a little bit more now. They have a Chrysler brand to look at, but I don’t want to blind my neighbor because I’m not coming out of my neighborhood. I’m staying here, I’m proud of where I’m at, where I’m from. Chrysler is the answer. … I stand for something powerful. I stand for something actually cool.”
The question of what Chrysler really is, becomes more urgent when we consider that Stellantis is, at this very moment, figuring out what cars will go with each brand. Drawing from Peugeot, Citroën, Opel, and DS—which share quite a bit—Stellantis is planning to repower Dodge, Chrysler, Alfa Romeo, and Lancia. One or two PSA cars could be brought to North America without much modification, other than restyling; others are likely to serve as the basis for heavily worked cars. For that matter, Stellantis may choose to alter Jeeps so they would work for the other American brands. The positioning of Dodge, Chrysler, and Alfa Romeo will play a major role in what shows up with their nameplates—and how it is powered, engineered, and “trimmed.”