Designed with the driving enthusiast in mind, the Eagle automotive brand looked to be a feather in Chrysler's cap after the corporation purchased American Motors Corporation in 1987. However, while Eagle did not survive the merger of Daimler-Chrysler in 1998, it had a successful pre-Chrysler run dating from 1970, when vehicles were sold under the corporate initials, AMC.
Battling the Big Three
Under the leadership of inaugural President and CEO George Mason, the AMC was viewed as one of the primary independent U.S. automakers that could merge with the rest of the country's independents to mount a singular challenge to the "Big Three" of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. The 1953 merger between Nash and Hudson automakers that created AMC failed to unseat the Big Three during the 1953-54 Ford/GM price war, yet there was some room left for more independent voices.
A chain of alliances and mergers between AMC, Packard and Studebaker offered a glimmer of hope that independents might rise again, but once U.S. Studebaker production ended in 1964, the playing field was significantly smaller. By 1966, the roster of North American auto manufacturers included only the Big Three plus the independents AMC, Kaiser Jeep, International Harvester, Avanti and Checker.
AMC's 'anti-dinosaur' strategy
George Romney, who took the reins of AMC after the death of George Mason in 1954, saw a way to fight against the trend of ever-growing cars ("dinosaurs") being produced by the Big Three. Romney's two-pronged strategy for AMC garnered no small amount media attention. The strategic factors, which helped AMC develop a reputation for building solid economy cars, were as follows:
- Using shared components in AMC cars
- Refusing to go big like the Big Three
In addition to AMC's innovation with shared components, the company began to experiment with electric vehicles as early as 1959. The company announced a research project with the Sonotone Corporation that involved an electric car with a self-charging, nickel-cadmium battery that would have been lighter than the standard lead-acid battery. The project did not come to fruition.
The Eagle lands for good
AMC leadership shifted several times over the ensuing years. By the later 1960s, the company focused on muscle cars for a younger demographic. On the innovation front, in 1968, AMC became the first U.S. automaker to make air conditioning standard equipment on all vehicles, something even luxury brands like Lincoln, Imperial and Cadillac couldn't match at the time.
From 1970, "AMC" was the name affixed to all American Motors passenger vehicles. By the early 1980s, however, branding became somewhat confused by the appearance of the American Eagle. Most of the automaker's models appeared in Chrysler-Plymouth, Dodge, and Mitsubishi dealerships under various names.
Financial difficulties at Chrysler in the late 1980s and the increasingly popularity of Jeep led to a slow phasing out of the AMC Eagle brand by 1999. The moderate success of the all-wheel-drive Eagle through the 1980s wasn't enough to counteract engineering issues and increasingly competitive marketplace conditions.