Chrysler (UK) |
Chrysler Europe was a division of the American Chrysler Corporation that operated between 1967 and 1979. It was formed from the merger of the French Simca, British Rootes and Spanish Barreiros companies. Chrysler Europe operated between 1967 and 1979, before it was divested to PSA Peugeot Citroën.
PSA rebadged the former Chrysler and Simca models with the revived Talbot marque, but abandoned the brand for passenger cars in 1987, although it continued on commercial vehicles until 1994.
Among the remaining Chrysler Europe assets still in existence are the former Simca factory in Poissy, the former Barreiros plant in the Madrid suburb Villaverde, which both serve as major Peugeot-Citroën assembly plants, and the Rootes Group research and development complex in Whitley, Coventry - which is now the headquarters of Jaguar Land Rover.
Chrysler Corporation had never had much success outside North America, contrasting with Ford's worldwide reach and General Motors' success with Opel, Vauxhall, Holden and Bedford. Chrysler first established an interest in the French-based Simca in 1958, buying 15% of the Simca stocks from Ford. In 1963 Chrysler increased their stake to a controlling 63% by purchasing further stock from Fiat.
After failing to acquire an interest in the British-based Leyland Motors in 1962, Chrysler bought a 30% share in Rootes Group in 1964, Rootes was formally taken over by Chrysler following purchase of the remaining shares in 1967.
In 1970 Rootes formally became known as Chrysler (UK) Ltd. and Simca became known as Chrysler (France), with the Hillman marque finally being replaced by Chrysler on the UK market in 1976 and Simca surviving until after the PSA takeover in 1979.
The first European Chrysler was the Chrysler 180, launched in 1970. The 180 was the result of combining two projects that were previously being developed independently by Rootes and Simca.
This was followed by the 1975 Alpine hatchback, which was sold in France as the Simca 1307. It was voted European Car of the Year for 1976. Two years later, the smaller Horizon also won the award.
Chrysler also created the Britain-only Sunbeam three-door hatchback which was based on the Rootes-designed Hillman Avenger chassis but was aimed at the likes of the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo.
Although the original marques were retained at first, from 1975 British-built cars were badged as Chryslers, while the Simca badge appeared on French versions (though with the Chrysler pentastar, in some markets the cars were sold as Chrysler-Simca). Chrysler used the Dodge marque on commercial vehicles produced by both Simca and Rootes (Commer and Karrier, but in addition using badge engineering to sell vehicles overseas under the Fargo and DeSoto brands). In addition, in some countries, such as Spain, the Dodge and Simca marques would be used for other vehicles, mostly Spanish-designed (ex-Barreiros) trucks and buses and locally-built versions of US-market vehicles or local versions of Simca cars.
The company systematically retired the previous marques from Rootes, including Hillman, Humber, and Sunbeam in favour of the Chrysler name, but retained the French Simca name. In 1969, Chrysler Europe closed a deal with French engineering group Matra Automobiles to jointly develop the Matra sports cars and subsequently sell them through the Simca dealer network (as Matra-Simca).
However, the confused branding of the vehicles, coupled to mediocre design and poor build quality meant profits failed to materialize. Chrysler was already in serious financial trouble back home in America, and were on the brink of bankruptcy. The company's incoming CEO, Lee Iacocca had shown little interest in the European market from the outset (just as he had done during his period in charge of Ford), and wasted no time in wielding the axe almost immediately.
Chrysler UK had several plants in Coventry, including the Ryton assembly plant, the Stoke Aldermoor engine plant, the design, engineering and development site at Whitley and Hills Precision, the plastics factory in Canterbury Street, as well as the vehicle manufacturing plant at Linwood in Scotland.
Decline and sale to Peugeot and Renault Trucks
In 1978, Chrysler Europe was sold for a nominal US$1 to Peugeot, who took on the liability for the division's huge debts as well as its factories and product line, which was rebadged using the resurrected Talbot marque. This was owned in two different forms by both Rootes (Sunbeam-Talbot) and Simca (Talbot-Lago). But within eight years, the French giant (also in financial trouble) had scrapped the Talbot marque on passenger cars - retaining it for commercial vehicles only until 1991. The car meant to succeed the Chrysler Horizon became Peugeot 309 and in 1983, Peugeot sold its share in Matra together with the Chrysler-initiated design of an MPV to Renault, where the design lives on as Renault Espace. Peugeot took little interest in heavy commercial vehicles and the production of former British and Spanish Dodge models passed to Renault Trucks.
Chrysler on the other hand, retained the design rights to the Avenger and those of the US-version Horizon. Peugeot were therefore compelled to retain the Chrysler "pentastar" badge on the Avenger, whilst Chrysler prepared to shift production of the car to Argentina when European sales ended in 1981. The American version of the Horizon continued to be produced in the United States as the Plymouth Horizon and Dodge Omni.
The former Simca and Rootes assembly plants in Poissy and Ryton-on-Dunsmore, respectively, continued under the ownership of Peugeot, but Rootes' Linwood plant in Scotland was a casualty of the takeover - closing its doors in 1981. The former Rootes Ryton plant was closed in December 2006, with production of the Peugeot 206 (made there since the summer of 1998) moved to Slovakia. Since 1985, it had also produced Peugeot's 309, 405 and 306 ranges. It has since been demolished to make way for new factories.
- "Chrysler buys French auto firm" (1 February 1964), p. 8. Retrieved on 8 February 2014.
- "Project Car Hell, Chrysler Captives Edition: Simca 1204, Dodge Colt, or Plymouth Cricket?". Autoweek (31 May 2013). Retrieved on 8 February 2014.
- "Chrysler buys one-third of Spanish Auto Builder" (2 October 1963), p. 5-C. Retrieved on 8 February 2014.
- Hyde, Charles (2003). Riding the Roller Coaster: A History of the Chrysler Corporation. Wayne State University Press, 199. ISBN 9780814330913.
- "Hillman Imp: The car that drove Linwood to disaster". BBC History (1 May 2013). Retrieved on 8 February 2014.
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