On a brisk January day in 1992, Chrysler's then-President Bob Lutz slid into the driver's seat of the first Jeep Grand Cherokee to roll off the assembly line at the new Jefferson North factory. Riding shotgun was Detroit's colorful and cantankerous mayor, Coleman A. Young. They were on their way to make a showstopping introduction at the Detroit auto show, but it would not be a smooth ride. As they turned onto potholed Jefferson Avenue, Lutz said: "You know, some of these streets really need attention, your honor." Young laughed and said, "What, you don't like them potholes?" As Lutz struck another road divot, he responded, "Who would?" Young laughed again, Lutz recalled, and said, "Well, you better learn to love 'em, because they're staying right where they are."
Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne drove the first new Jeep Grand Cherokee off the line at a ceremony on May 21, 2010, echoing Bob Lutz's famous roll-off 18 years earlier. This time, the breakthrough did not come via a glass wall. Rather, it was what the boss had to say.
In June 2009, the last auto plant in Detroit was idle, mausoleum-quiet and a symbol of failure. Weeds had grown three-feet tall around Chrysler's sprawling Jeep factory at the desolate crossroads of Jefferson and Conner as the company went dark during bankruptcy. Among the bills the near-dead automaker couldn't afford to pay: lawn service.
By August 2008, the situation was getting desperate. The Detroit Three were burning through billions every month. GM and Chrysler were running out of time. Chrysler's new owner, Cerberus Capital Management, was a New York private-equity firm named for the three-headed hellhound in Greek mythology that guards the gates of the underworld. In its first -- and last -- foray into automaking, Cerberus was feeling the heat of a hell of its own creation. It was looking for an exit strategy.
General Motors Co. named Mary Barra to succeed Dan Akerson as chief executive officer, completing the GM insider’s rise from a factory-floor worker to the industry’s first female CEO after more than a century of global automaking.