This month marked the official birth of a new automaker, Stellantis.
In reality, it’s only the newest test for long-time workers at the former Chrysler Corp.
Stellantis is the result of the merger of PSA Group, parent firm of Peugeot, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. The deal was announced in late 2019 but was only finalized over the past few days.
Chrysler for years was the smallest member of Detroit’s “Big Three.” The company avoided extinction in 1980 thanks to U.S.-backed loan guarantees. That was when Lee Iacocca, fired by Ford Motor Co., was the automaker’s CEO.
Iacocca already was a wealthy executive when he took command of Chrysler. But Chrysler and its comeback made Iacocca an auto industry legend. Nevertheless, being a legend can be fleeting. When Iacocca finally retired, investors were ready for something new.
In the late 1990s, Chrysler agreed to merge with Diamler AG, the maker of Mercedes-Benz vehicles. The result was DaimlerChrysler AG. Supposedly, the deal would be a “merger of equals.”
In Germany, Chrysler was always viewed as a drag on Mercedes-Benz. In the 2000s, Daimler dumped Chrysler and a private equity company, Cerberus Capital Management, took over. That took place just in time for the auto industry to crash in the late 2000s.
Italy’s Fiat then took over Chrysler. The U.S. government gave its blessing as part of a bankruptcy proceeding.
Throughout all this, Chrysler and its workforce kept doing what it had to do. Arguably, Iacocca’s best move when he was CEO in the 1980s was to acquire American Motors, which owned Jeep.
Jeep, decades later, is one of the major assets of the newly formed Stellantis along with Ram-brand trucks.
The Chrysler brand, reflecting the name of company founder Walter Chrysler, may end up being forgotten. That’s sad, but the corporate graveyard is full of forgotten brands. In the auto industry alone, few remember Studebaker, Rambler and Stutz. Business often is unforgiving that way.
Regardless, long-time Chrysler employees – both white-collar and blue-collar – are working for yet another new employer.
Those employees have witnessed a lot of history. Perhaps they will see a lot more.