Chrysler Europe history (1967-1979)
Chrysler Europe was a division of the Chrysler Corporation that operated between 1967 and 1979.
In the 1960s, Chrysler sought to become a world producer of automobiles. The company had never had much success outside North America, contrasting with Ford's worldwide reach and General Motors' success with Opel, Vauxhall, Holden and Bedford. In 1967, Chrysler succeeded in purchasing the Rootes Group of the United Kingdom, Simca of France (in which it had already had a substantial stake since 1958), and Barreiros of Spain.
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). Following the introduction of the 1970 Avenger, Chrysler showed little investment or interest in the technologically backward Rootes line-up, concentrating instead on the advanced front wheel drive Simca models instead.
Confused branding - a trait of trying to concurrently sell the mismatched pairing of the Simca and Rootes product families, coupled to mediocre design and poor build quality meant profits failed to materialize, although Simca on its own had been consistently profitable during its tenure under Chrysler ownership - it was the ailing former Rootes Group operations which were to prove to be the ultimate downfall of the company. 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.
Decline and sale to Peugeot
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, with the former Chrysler models in Britain and Simca models in France both using the resurrected Talbot marque.
But within eight years, the French giant scrapped the Talbot marque on passenger cars due to falling sales - though retaining it for commercial vehicles until 1992. The car meant to succeed the Chrysler Horizon became Peugeot 309 on its launch at the end of 1985, 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. The Rootes factory in Dunstable, England ceased manufacture of trucks, ending with the Renault Midliner in the mid 1990's. In 2009 the staff of Renault Trucks (RVI), part of the Volvo Group since 2001, relocated from the former Rootes site to a new building. The former factory has since been demolished.
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 until 1990, three years after the last European model was made.
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. The former Rootes research and development site in Whitley was sold to Jaguar in 1986, and continues as the headquarters of Jaguar Land Rover to the present day. The former Simca site in Poissy has also thrived, and is now one Peugeot's most important assembly plants.