Thursday 16 November 2017
The Plymouth Reliant and Dodge Aries were introduced for model year 1981 as the first "K-cars" manufactured and marketed by the Chrysler Corporation. As rebadged variants, the Reliant and Aries were manufactured in Newark, Delaware, Detroit, Michigan, and Toluca, Mexico — in a single generation.
The Reliant replaced the Plymouth Volaré/Road Runner. The Aries replaced the Dodge Aspen. Though similar in exterior size to a compact car, the Reliant's interior volume gave it a mid-size designation from the EPA. The Aries was sold as the Dart in Mexico.
The Reliant and Aries were selected together as Motor Trend magazine's Car of the Year for 1981 — and sold almost a million Aries and 1.1 million Reliant units over the nine-year run.
As the 1970s ended, Chrysler was facing a grave financial crisis due to poor business decisions, lack of investment in new products during previous years, and external factors outside of their control. Lynn Townsend, chairman from 1962–75, had pursued a hands-off policy of running the company, refusing to spend more than the minimum on new drivetrains or platforms as long as the existing ones continued to sell. Sales of the company's larger cars started dropping after the 1973 OPEC Embargo and an increased amount of company volume consisted of lower profit compact models. Chrysler also had a policy of producing cars regardless of whether a customer ordered them (in contrast to AMC, Ford, and GM who only produced vehicles they received orders for) and soon was left with a backlog of unsold inventory which cost money to store. They had to resort to the money-losing tactic of rebates to get rid of these excess cars. Compounding these difficulties were new Federal emissions and safety regulations during the 1970s which added more to the production costs of each car.
Townsend retired in 1975 and left the reins to John Riccardo, who presided over a slowly-sinking company. The following year, the compact Dodge Aspen/Plymouth Volare debuted as replacements for the dated Dodge Dart/Plymouth Valiant, but were rushed into production and ended up with a major string of quality control problems that led to them being one of the most recalled cars in US history. In 1977, Riccardo petitioned newly elected US president Jimmy Carter for a Federal bailout, but Carter would not consider the idea as long as Chrysler's present management were in charge. In January 1978, Chrysler released the Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon, a US adaption of the European Simca Horizon and the first domestic-built FWD subcompacts. But they came out in a year when larger cars were in demand and dealers struggled to move them from lots, costing the hard-pressed company yet more money.
Meanwhile, Ford president Lee Iacocca was fired in April 1978 and three months later, Chrysler offered him the position of company president. By this point, the smallest of the Big Three American automakers was close to collapse, struggling from the unexpected poor sales of the Omni, the fallout from the Aspen recalls, and the decision to discontinue full-sized Dodges and Plymouths in 1978, leaving them without a full-sized car in a year of strong sales for them. Even worse, quality control on Chrysler vehicles had become alarmingly bad since 1976.
Although the K-platform had been designed during 1978, the failing company could not afford by this point to put them into production. Iacocca and Riccardo thus decided to repeat the original 1977 request for government assistance, but since the Carter Administration would not offer any help until the existing management was removed, Riccardo summarily stepped down as chairman and handed Iacocca the job.
During a series of Congressional hearings, Lee Iacocca made his case for a Federal bailout of Chrysler, citing past bailouts of the railroad industry and aerospace company Lockheed-Martin as precedent. He argued that thousands of American jobs would be saved and furthermore that the company had been consciously attempting to build modern, economical cars such as the Omni, but fate had dealt them a bad hand. Iacocca also stated that excessive government regulations were costing needless money.
Congress approved the bailout after Chrysler detailed the plans for their new FWD platform and the first handful of K-cars trickled off the assembly line at Detroit's Jefferson Avenue plant in late 1980.
The Reliant and Aries were downsized replacements for the six-passenger Volare and Aspen, which in turn were modernized version of the original Valiant and Dart compact cars of the 1960s. Based on experience gained with subcompact Omni/Horizon of 1978, the roomier K-cars set out to build a family sized car with a front-wheel drive design powered by a four-cylinder engine. They were offered as 2 and 4 door notchback sedans and wagons and retained six-passenger seating on two bench seats. While the Chevrolet Citation introduced front-wheel drive in the 1980 model year to replace the Nova, its unusual styling and problems with recalls hampered its success. They achieved nearly a million in sales between the two original nameplates before being rebadged and upgraded, not counting the numerous stretched, sporty or minivan derivatives. Ford would not replace its family-sized Fairmont/Granada/LTD with a front-wheel drive design until the 1986 Ford Taurus, while cars like the Chevrolet Cavalier and Ford Tempo would be marketed as upscale compacts rather than family sedans.
After their introduction, the Reliant and Aries were marketed as the "Reliant K" and "Aries K". A "K" badge was also added after the word "Reliant" and "Aries" to the rear of the cars. The Reliant and Aries were Motor Trend magazine's Car of the Year for 1981.
Initial advertisements for the Aries were done in red, white, and blue and emphasized American industry's desire to answer the challenge of Japanese products. Because of how financially strapped that Chrysler was, early promotional shots featured the same car, but with Dodge and Plymouth badges and trim swapped.
- engine: 4 cylinders
- capacity: 2200 cc
- horsepower: 115 HP
- gearbox: 5+1
- top speed: 170 km/h