Back in 1998, Daimler-Benz, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, took over the Chrysler Corporation. At the time, the arrangement was billed as a merger of equals, but in retrospect, it was stated that way largely to make it palatable to the Americans involved. The fact of the matter was quite different however. According to news reports from that period, decision were made at the Stuttgart, Germany-based Daimler-Benz headquarters largely without regard for the American executives at Chrysler in Auburn Hills, Michigan. In fact, the Germans treated the Americans largely as subordinates.
In other words, “merger of equals” be damned, Chrysler’s marching orders came straight out of Stuttgart. The Germans decreed the merged company’s HQ would be in Germany, its business cards would have a certain style, and rather than seek to build any sort of consensus, they demanded the implementation of their directives. Now given the fact DaimlerChrysler sank some $36 billion into the American company, it is perhaps fair to say they had a right to do pretty much as they saw fit. But it was distasteful to the American managers nonetheless.
In time, the Germans grew tired of Chrysler’s American management team altogether, and replaced them with a handpicked team of individuals from Stuttgart. Predictably, it didn’t work out very well. The whole process was ultimately doomed to failure—from both an economical and a sociological standpoint.
However, from an automotive standpoint, Chrysler’s cars got some serious traction (no pun intended) out of the affair, as the uh merger, takeover, occupation; or whatever you want to call it, gave Chrysler access to one of the best rear-drive automotive parts bins in the world. As of this writing, (February, 2012) all of Chrysler’s rear-drive cars are still based on Mercedes-Benz E-Class platforms, and its current crop of SUVs is based on the MBZ M-Class platform.
One of the first automotive beneficiaries of the deal was a two-seat sports car—badged a Chrysler—with the running gear from the 1997 Mercedes-Benz SLK. Called Crossfire, (which, in retrospect was probably an inside joke by the American management team finding itself caught up in a political one), the two-seater was introduced as a concept car in 2001. The car buying public raved over the design and it went into production in 2003, as a 2004 model (after the SLK got an all-new platform).
Here’s an interesting bit of trivia; in addition to running a lot of German componentry, the Crossfire was also built by the Karmann Company in Osnabruck, Germany—and exported to the United States. Pretty ironic, given Chrysler’s current marketing tag, “Imported From Detroit.”
The Chrysler Crossfire ran but a single generation, from 2004 to 2008.