Chrysler established its presence here in the 1950s with the formation of Chrysler Australia Ltd. and went on to invest substantially in its manufacturing activities over the next two decades to compete alongside General Motors-Holden and Ford Australia.
Early Chrysler models included the Plymouth Cranbrook, Dodge Kingsway, and De Soto Diplomat, while 1960 saw the arrival of the Dodge Phoenix, produced between 1960 and 1973. A strong rival to the Holden and Falcon, the Valiant is one of Chrysler’s best-known brands from this period. It was marketed between 1962 and 1980, originally imported from the US and later manufactured here. The most iconic Chrysler of this time was the Valiant Charger, a short-wheelbase two-door hardtop with sporty styling and a luxury finish, earning it the Wheels magazine Car of the Year award in 1971. Chrysler failed to capitalise on its success, however, facing stiff competition from new Japanese manufacturers entering the market and the rise of more economic 4-cylinder cars in the face of increasing oil prices.
An acquisition by Mitsubishi saw the Mitsubishi-designed but Chrysler-badged Sigma enjoy more success in the market in 1977, and several models followed before the last Chrysler-badged car rolled off the production lines for Australia in 1981.
The year 1994 saw the re-emergence of the brand with the arrival of the Jeep Cherokee, followed quickly by the Chrysler Neon, leading to a range of Chrysler, Jeep, and Dodge branded models. The models were marketed with ‘value for money’ in mind, but initial reports of quality were disappointing nonetheless. Since its re-emergence, however, Chrysler has gone from strength to strength and now offers one of the widest ranging model selections on the market, aided by Chrysler Australia’s position as official distributor not just of the Chrysler and Jeep brands but also of Alfa Romeo, Fiat, and Fiat Commercial.
The current Chrysler line-up includes the Chrysler 300 and Chrysler Grand Voyager; Jeep Compass, Jeep Cherokee, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep Patriot, and Jeep Wrangler; Dodge Journey; Alfa Romeo MiTo and Alfa Romeo Giulietta; and Fiat 500, Fiat Ducato, and Fiat Scudo.
Much of Chrysler’s success in recent years has come from its Jeep-branded products, with the Grand Cherokee proving to be an unprecedented success, competing against more urban-based sports 4x4s and coming out ahead of the pack consistently on sales. The other Jeep models cover the ground between compact 4x4x and heavy-duty workhorses, and they are known for rugged American looks and quality performance both on and off the road.
Of the Chrysler-badged models, the 300 has its roots back in the 1950s, but most models available on the used car forecourts today date from its return to market in 2005. The 300 is a large family car, available as a sedan or station wagon. It is based on the platform of the rear-wheel drive Chrysler LX and shares a number of features and components with the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and S-Class.
The Grand Voyager hit the production lines in 1998 but has enjoyed most of its success since its 2005 revamp. Grand it certainly is, accommodating a large family and a huge amount of luggage with room to spare. It boasts 256 different furniture variations between the 7 available seats and luggage stowage space, making it suitable for just about any eventuality.
There are, of course, a number of Chrysler-badged cars on the used car forecourts that are no longer in production. One of the most distinctive is the PT Cruiser, which came to market in 2000 bearing more than a passing resemblance to the 1930s retro styling of its forebears. At the time of its release, only the Beetle and the lesser-known Plymouth Prowler sported this look, which has become hugely popularised since, with the re-emergence of the Mini Cooper and a raft of retro-styled competitors.
Chrysler’s look and feel is very distinctive and undeniably American. The Jeep-branded models compete with a wide range of 4x4s while the Chrysler-badged models continue to give Ford and Holden a run for their money. Individually, of course, each model has its own competition, with the Grand Voyager competing against the Toyota Tarago, Honda Odyssey, and Mitsubishi Grandis in the 7-seater range, and the Chrysler 300 standing up against the Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon as the family car and fleet staples.