Fiat Chrysler declared on Tuesday that the Chrysler brand would no longer go after premium customers, leaving Alfa Romeo and Maserati to carry the load. On one hand, it's a smart business move for clear brand identity. On the other, it's the disappearance of another Detroit luxury brand.
You could compare the beginning and the end of old Chrysler — if we're counting "new" Chrysler being born on May 6, 2014 — to the women of Grey Gardens, specifically Little Edie. Walk with me for a bit here.
If you know the story of the Beale family, be it from Kennedy family history, the "Grey Gardens" documentary or the campy HBO biopic, you know this: Edith Beale and her daughter, also named Edith Beale, were the toast of New York society. The Beales, cousins to Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, lived in fantastic opulence and never had much to worry about as long as the money kept rolling in. Then the older Beale, Big Edie, divorced after her husband left her, and she and Little Edie lived out their years in a grand estate that crumbled all around them. Little Edie occasionally showed signs of life and spurts of her privileged life, but never quite lived up to her glory days.
The Chrysler brand was the same way. Once a standard-bearer alongside Lincoln (we'll get to them in a second, and they're no different), Packard, Cadillac, and several others, Chrysler itself was involved in some bad marriages and saw its surroundings fall apart. There were signs of life, like the 300, but never anything close to the Imperials, Windsors or the original Town & Country of days past.
Unlike Little Edie, who died alone after Grey Gardens was razed, Chrysler is being set on a new path. Chrysler's now a mainstream brand, ending any chances of revisiting luxobarges like the Imperial concept we saw a few years ago. The 300 becomes a Taurus/Impala/Avalon competitor, with no chance of going up against, say, the XTS.
There are two American, full-line luxury brands left, and that's Cadillac and Lincoln. Now hold your comments for just a second; I know Lincoln as a "luxury" brand is wide open for debate. Still, it's now one of the last lifelines of what Detroit automakers were once capable of: Miles of sheet metal, ahead-of-the-game conveniences, enough leather to drive a PETA activist insane, and unabashed performance.
Ford has plans for Lincoln; what, exactly, we don't know. As of today, the MKZ is just a more expensive Fusion. But the MKC is on the way, and Ford announced today that a sedan larger than the MKtauruS is in the works.
Cadillac has delivered on their promises and they've teased us with the super-sexy El Miraj, but here's the thing: They've benchmarked so much German engineering for their current line that I wonder if it's a quiet admission that they just do it better, and that this is what Americans have come to expect from a luxury car.
I'm not trying to be all 'MURICA! here. The fact that the average luxury buyer is very likely to go for something Asian or European isn't new and hasn't been new for almost 30 years. And that's not a bad thing at all — especially if you look at how some other car companies have stepped their game up. Look at Kia, once the bargain-basement dweller which is now giving us the K900.
But the end of Chrysler as a luxury brand seems like the end of an era. The quest to out-lux each other used to be a fun, cross-continental game for automakers. Now it's game over.
Photos via GM, Chrysler, Ford