Do chauffeurs miss the Chrysler brand?
Paul Gibson, editor of TheChauffeur.com writes about the Chrysler, and asks 'Do chauffeurs miss the Chrysler brand?'
During my many visits to the United States during the early days of The Chauffeur magazine, The Chrysler 300C was a very popular vehicle and was even being cut and stretched into executive LWB and limousine versions like at bostoncorporatecoach.com/locations/boston/ - I knew instantly there was a need for this car in the UK (visit site)!
This was 2003 when a huge majority of UK chauffeurs were probably behind the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz, as the choice of vehicles was extremely limited. So, when I started writing about the 300C, readers thought I was mad. Why would I be wanting this mafia looking, American monstrosity on UK shores?
Even then, I could see the value for money the 300C offered. The U.S price for it back then was something stupid like $25,000, and that was in the good old days of two dollars to the pound. It was a big car, (dwarfing the likes of an E-Class even though it shared many components), and it had a major road presence - you could almost see shop keepers locking their doors as it drove past.
In 2004, I was delighted when the announcement came that the 300C was to be imported into the UK. However, it wasn't all good news as early models would only be left-hand drive and would house the thirsty petrol engine which was basically good for nothing.
I remember driving around a sleepy Sussex town in one of the early left-hand drive versions in 2004 - young and old stopped in the street and pointed thinking the local gangsters had arrived. Many thought, and still do, it was a Bentley, much to the disgust of the prestigious marque. This is the secret to the success of the 300C - buyers wanted something different and due to the low price tag, Chrysler couldn't make enough for American buyers.
As the years flew by, a diesel version eventually arrived in the UK along with a number of design and technical improvements. A European factory was announced and examples started to creep into the chauffeur industry. TV shows such as the X-Factor and Britain's Got Talent took on the 300C to chauffeur judges which certainly didn't damage its image at all.
Then suddenly, things changed for Chrysler somewhat, Italian giant Fiat bought the brand from the U.S for a reported $500m, and then in 2012, an all-new Chrysler 300C arrived.
Chrysler/Fiat had realised German brands were taking over and wanted a develop a car which would directly compete with the likes of the Audi A6, BMW 5-Series and the E-Class. This was difficult to imagine as the outgoing 300C suffered a serious lack of refinement inside the cabin. When the aforementioned German saloons offered so much, it almost seemed an impossible task to achieve.
The re-launched 300C had a much friendlier appearance, without losing its impressive road stance. It still turned heads and felt like a complete barge to drive - but in a good way. It felt much more European and a pleasure to sit in. More attention was made to the rear seating and it certainly competed with the likes of the E-Class, and the engine was far more refined than its clacketty, noisy predecessor.
But, at a time when the 300C was starting to get established within the chauffeur industry, Fiat pulled the plug on UK sales of any vehicle in the Chrysler range. The company just couldn’t compete with its low emission rivals - it’s reported that less than 2000 vehicles were sold in 2014.
It didn’t just take the 300 away from us, the Grand Voyager was also an extremely popular people carrier within the industry. There was no other vehicle that could carry more than four passengers in comfort apart from the Caravelle and Viano which were basically vans with seats.
The Voyager was actually built exclusively to move a large number of people in comfort - it was practical, versatile and it was widely used by celebrities, bands and many chauffeur firms. However, it was never pretty, the engine was horrendous and economy just wasn’t worth thinking about.
So, although Chrysler offered some interesting cars and had started to make head way into the chauffeur industry, sales stopped, forcing all current owners to use Jeep dealerships, and to have the constant worry about parts and resale values in the future. On the good side, prices are low. A two year old 300C, fully spec’d with 20,000 miles on the clock can be picked-up for less than £25,000, or if you fancy a cool luxury run around for the family and you don’t care about the mileage, then just a few thousand picks you up a 2007/2008 pre-facelift model.
The same goes for the Grand Voyager - £30,000 gets you an almost new, low mileage example full of toys and luxury, or for just over £15k, you’ll find models only a few years old having completed around 20,000 miles.
Despite the fond memories Chrysler left only a tiny dent in the chauffeur vehicle market, which German Rival Mercedes-Benz quickly filled. Their new E-Class ticks all the boxes and its V-Class is certainly what a people carrier should be.
Paul Gibson - TheChauffeur.com