Retrospective

Harley-Davidson: A rolling retrospective on the American need for two-wheeled speed

American stunt rider Evel Knievel (1938 - 2007) pulls a wheelie on his Harley Davidson motorcycle, circa 1975.

Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images

Harley-Davidson has been building motorcycles in America for more than 100 years — no small feat. Since the company's start in 1903, more than 150 American motorcycle makers have come and gone, with Harley-Davidson outlasting them all. What began as a drawing of an engine designed to power a bicycle has turned into a megabrand well known and respected for building world-class motorcycles sold around the globe. Here's a look at the journey started by William Harley and Arthur Davidson back in 1901.

American Dream

Harley-Davidson

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In 1901 at the young age of 21, William S. Harley created a blueprint drawing for an engine of his design that would fit into a bicycle frame. Just two years later, Harley and Arthur Davidson had built their first Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Production took place in their first "factory" — a 10-by-15-foot wooden shed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, identified by a hand-lettered name on the door that read "Harley-Davidson Motor Co."

First H-D Motorcycle

Harley-Davidson

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In 1903 Harley and Davidson built their first motorcycle, which was designed for racing. Three were built that first year. C.H. Lang of Chicago, Illinois — the first Harley-Davidson dealer — sold one of the three.

Rapid Growth

Harley-Davidson

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By 1906 the company had six full-time employees and had clearly outgrown the shed, so Harley-Davidson built a larger factory. By this time Arthur Davidson's brothers — Walter and William — had joined the company. One year later the company had 18 employees and the factory size doubled as well. On September 17, 1907, Harley-Davidson incorporated. The company began recruiting dealers to sell its product.

A Solid Reputation

Harley-Davidson

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In 1908 Walter Davidson scored a perfect 1,000 points at the Seventh-Annual Federation of American Motorcyclists Endurance and Reliability Contest. Davidson also set a fuel-economy record achieving 188.234 miles per gallon. By this time, the company's motorcycles were entering races and having great success. One year earlier Harley-Davidson motorcycles had won the Speed Test Milwaukee Hillclimb; Motorcycle Flying Start, Milwaukee; Five Mile Handicap, Janesville, Wisconsin; and Special Handicap Derby Day Races, Milwaukee.

Creating an Icon

Harley-Davidson

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Harley-Davidson created the first V-twin motorcycle in 1909. The two cylinders placed at a 45-degree angle created a V and quickly became associated with the brand. Also tied to this legendary name is the famous Bar & Shield that was first used in 1910. In 1911 Harley-Davidson trademarked the logo with the U.S. patent office.

Expansion

Harley-Davidson

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In the early years of the 20th century, Harley-Davidson grew at an impressive pace. Nine years after production of that first motorcycle, the company had a network of more than 200 dealers across America. In 1912 Harley-Davidson began sales outside the U.S. — the company began exports to Japan.

Going Racing

Harley-Davidson

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Harley-Davidson officially entered motorcycle racing in 1914, and it took only a few years before H-D team riders dominated the sport. In fact, the team became known as the "wrecking crew" because of their impressive success.

War Effort

Harley-Davidson

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Harley-Davidson played a big part in World War I — by 1918 the U.S. government purchased nearly half of all motorcycles built by the company. The U.S. Army used an estimated 20,000 motorcycles during WWI, most of which were Harley-Davidsons. Corporal Roy Holtz of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, was the first American to enter Germany after the signing of the armistice — riding a Harley-Davison.

Largest in the World

Harley-Davidson

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By 1920 Harley-Davidson had become the largest motorcycle company in the world, and more than 2,000 dealers in 67 countries sold the company's product. The company continued its success at the track — riders on Harley-Davidson motorcycles swept all eight national championship races in 1921.

The Hog

Harley-Davidson

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According to Harley-Davidson archives, in the early 1920s the racing team's mascot was a pig — which race winners would carry during their victory lap after each race won.

And Then There Were Two

29th October 1927: The first Indian four-cylinder engine motorbike, on view at the motorcycle show at Olympia, London.

Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Although there had been more than 100 different companies building motorcycles in America since the early 1900s, by 1931 Harley-Davidson's only competition in the U.S. was Indian. The U.S. motorcycle landscape would not change again until 1953.

World War II

Harley-Davidson

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As the country went to war once again, Harley-Davidson stepped up to support the U.S. In 1941 almost every motorcycle Harley-Davidson produced went to the military. By the end of WWII in 1945, Harley-Davidson had produced almost 90,000 WLA models. The company also created the unique XA 750 with its horizontally opposed cylinders and driveshaft designed for desert use. Only 1,011 of the rare XA 750s were built.

Happy Anniversary

Harley-Davidson

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Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 1953, the company created this unique logo showcasing a V — honoring the engine that had been so important to the company's success. Harley-Davidson attached the logo to the fender of every 1954 model.

And Then There Was One

Harley-Davidson

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In 1953 Hendee Manufacturing — the company building the Indian motorcycle — went out of business, leaving Harley-Davidson as the lone American motorcycle company. The company would go it alone in the motorcycle business for more than 30 years.

Superbike

Harley-Davidson

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An all-new motorcycle from Harley-Davidson launched in 1957 — the Sportster. With a 55-cubic-inch overhead-valve engine, the Sportster offered impressive performance, later becoming known as the first of the "superbikes."

Electric Starter

Harley-Davidson

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In the mid-1960s, Harley-Davidson introduced the electric starter — on the three-wheeled Servi-Car. Soon after, the electric starter became available on the new Electra-Glide and Sportster lines.

Speed Records

Harley-Davidson

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Harley-Davidson made it into the record books in 1965 when George Roeder broke speed records for Class A and Class C in a custom-built Streamliner, hitting 177 mph. Five years later, Cal Rayborn set the land speed record for a motorcycle, hitting 265 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats in a 16-foot streamliner powered by a single Sportster engine.

Low Rider

Harley-Davidson

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Harley-Davidson unveiled the FXS Low Rider at Daytona Beach in 1977. The custom bike featured drag-style handlebars, a unique engine and paint, and — as the name indicates — a lowered seating position. Later in the same year, Willie G. Davidson's dynamic version of the Sportster, the Cafe Racer, was released.

Sturgis Edition

Harley-Davidson

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The annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, is a big draw for Harley-Davidson owners and has been since the first rally in 1938. To commemorate this historic event, Harley-Davidson released a special-edition FXB Sturgis model in 1980, featuring a belt drive, black chrome appointments and an 80-cubic-inch engine.

H.O.G.

Harley-Davidson

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There's no question that Harley owners are a loyal lot, and in 1983 they had a group to call their own. Recognizing the deep roots of the Harley community, the company created the Harley Owners Group, often referred to as H.O.G. The group quickly became one of the largest factory-sponsored motorcycle clubs in the world — currently there are more than 1 million members in 140 countries.

V2 Evolution

Harley-Davidson

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After seven years of development, Harley-Davidson debuted the all-new 1340 cc V2 Evolution engine in 1984. The new motor produced more power while running cooler and cleaner. Five models would use this new engine, including the all-new Softtail.

Trading Publicly

Harley-Davidson NYSE

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In 1969 Harley-Davidson merged with the American Machine and Foundry Company and remained that way until 1981 — the year Harley-Davidson purchased back the company's shares. In 1986 Harley-Davidson was listed on the American Stock Exchange for the first time since the merger in 1969. The following year Harley-Davidson joined the New York Stock Exchange.

Buell Motorcycles

Harley-Davidson

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In 1992 Harley-Davidson purchased a minority interested in Buell Motorcycles. Ex Harley-Davidson engineer Erik Buell started the eponymously company to build American sport motorcycles powered by Harley-Davidson XL 883 engines. Buell became a wholly owned subsidiary of Harley-Davidson in 2003. In 2009 Harley-Davidson discontinued Buell products so the company could focus on the Harley-Davidson brand.

Happy 100th Anniversary

Harley-Davidson

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To celebrate 100 years of motorcycle building, Harley-Davidson put on the Open Road Tour, starting out in Atlanta and ending at the company's hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. More than 250,000 people came to Milwaukee for the final tour stop, as well as the 100th anniversary celebration and party. Even larger celebrations occurred for the 105th which coincided with the opening of the all-new Harley-Davidson Museum.

Around the World

Harley-Davidson

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The first authorized Harley-Davidson dealership in mainland China opened in 2006. Three years later, the company expanded operations to India, rolling out the entire lineup by 2010. By 2014, international sales accounted for more than 36 percent of Harley-Davidson's overall sales.

New Motor, New Touring Motorcycles

Harley-Davidson

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In 2016 Harley-Davidson introduced an all-new Milwaukee-Eight engine — the ninth Big Twin engine design in the company's history. "The Milwaukee-Eight engine carries the legacy of Harley-Davidson Big Twins into the future," said chief powertrain engineer Alex Bozmoski. "While respecting the essential Big Twin character, we've created an all-new motor. Every aspect of performance, durability and styling has been improved as a direct response to the voice of Harley-Davidson customers around the world," Bozmoski said. Shortly after the introduction of the new motor, the company debuted its latest Touring motorcycle lineup, powered by the new Milwaukee-Eight motor.

115th Anniversary

Harley-Davidson

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To help celebrate 115 years since the company's founding, Harley-Davidson introduced a wide range of new motorcycles for the 2018 model year, including eight new Softail models built on a new, more rigid chassis that provides better handling and quicker acceleration. At the same time five new Touring bikes joined the lineup, including custom versions of the Street Glide and Road Glide.

Going Electric

Harley-Davidson

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In 2014 Harley-Davidson unveiled its latest creation — an electric motorcycle. Called Project Livewire, this extremely quick bike has what Harley-Davidson calls "an unmistakable new sound." "Project LiveWire is more like the first electric guitar — not an electric car," said Mark-Hans Richer, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company.

This year the Livewire has reached production as the brand's first electric motorcycle. Livewire's electric motor produces 105 horsepower and 86 pound-feet of torque, powered by a 15.5 kWh high-voltage battery that provides a city range of 146 miles. Acceleration is quick — zero to-60 mph takes 3 seconds. Base price for the Livewire: slightly under $30,000.

Harley-Davidson Edition Pickups

Harley-Davidson Edition GMC Sierra

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For many years Ford and Harley-Davidson worked together to create special Harley-Davidson Editions of the F-150. For 2020 the company switched things up, creating the first-ever Harley-Davidson Edition GMC Sierra. With more than 65 components specific to this model, the special-edition GMC Sierra gets styling inspired by the Harley-Davidson Fat Boy. Only 250 copies of the Harley-Davidson Edition GMC Sierra will be made. But HD has not left Ford altogether — the company also announced plans for a Harley-Davidson-branded Ford F-250 Super Duty. Both trucks are produced in partnership with specialty truck provider Tuscany Motor Company.

What's Next?

Harley-Davidson

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Harley-Davidson has announced plans for two new bikes coming in the next few years. The Pan America will be the company's first Adventure Touring motorcycle, replete with all the functionality and capability required of such a bike. At the other end of the scale will be another exciting new model — the Harley-Davidson Bronx. The Bronx is an all-new "streetfighter" motorcycle built for speed and performance. Both Pan America and Bronx are expected to arrive in 2021.

Today

Harley-Davidson

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The little company that William Harley and Arthur Davidson started in a small shed in Wisconsin has come a long way. In 2019 Harley-Davidson sold almost 220,000 motorcycles worldwide with a lineup of eight different models and a total of 37 unique variants available. The company also sells a complete range of motorcycle parts, accessories, riding gear and apparel.

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Nuts & Bolts

 
 

The Bugatti Chiron Sport "Les Légendes du Ciel" edition pays homage to vintage aircraft.

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In the aftermath of World War I, company founder Ettore Bugatti showcased the first three vehicles made by the company that bore his name. They were race cars and Bugatti found itself at the pinnacle of the sport very quickly.

By 1930, the company would begin its relationship with the aerospace industry, first with the Bugatti 100P, which never actually flew due to World War II, but served as the inspiration for a number of patents that are filed by the company. The plane went into storage as the Second World War kicked off and Mr. Bugatti would never again work on it during his lifetime.

Bugatti Chiron Sport "Les Légendes du Ciel" edition

Photo courtesy of Bugatti

Bugatti is honoring its racing and aviation past with a new series of Chiron Sport models dubbed "Les Légendes du Ciel". The drivers who piloted the Bugattis to success in the early 1900s were often time multitalented with resumes declaring them flying aces, daredevils, and technically skilled pilots.

"Bugatti has had close associations with aviation since the company was established more than 110 years ago. Many successful Bugatti racing drivers, such as Albert Divo, Robert Benoist and Bartolomeo 'Meo' Costantini, flew for the French Air Force, the French aviator legend Roland Garros privately drove a Bugatti Type 18 to be as fast on the road as in the air," says Stephan Winkelmann, President of Bugatti. "It is therefore almost an obligation for us today to pay tribute to the legends of that time and dedicate a special edition to them."

Each of the new models features a special, matte gray "Gris Serpent" paint job, which is inspired by the exterior color of aircrafts from the 1920s. The color extends front to rear with high-contrast, which gloss stripe running up the center. The front wings are adorned with the "Les Légendes du Ciel" logo. The "Le Bleu-Blanc-Rouge" tricolor decorates the front area of the side sills made of exposed black carbon fiber.

At the front is Bugatti's traditional horseshoe radiator grille, finished in gloss black. The grille mesh is made of laser-cut and deep-drawn aluminum, and constructed in a dynamic pattern that that is repeated on the car's leather seats. Entry lights project the edition logo on the ground at entry while "Les Légendes du Ciel" logo on the middle console inlays.

Bugatti has covered the engine with black exposed carbon fiber with contrasting white lettering. The material continues at the back where black exposed carbon fibre and a black-coated exhaust trim cover made of 3D printed, high-temperature-resistant Inconel dominate.

The car's interior is almost entirely upholstered in leather. The leather's light brown color was chosen to be reminiscent of the natural leather in early aircrafts. On the door panels there is a hand-sketched racing scene between the Nieuport 17 aircraft and a Bugatti Type 13.

The new Bugatti Chiron Sport "Les Légendes du Ciel" edition is limited to 20 vehicles. Every model is independently numbered and costs $3.5 million.

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Walter P. Chrysler stands next to his1924 Chrysler Six, the first car bearing the Chrysler name.

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

It's been nearly 100 years since Walter P. Chrysler formed the Chrysler Corporation. In that time, the company has been merged, spilt, sold, and reborn in a variety of forms, but its roots still remain in Michigan where it is known as one of the Big Three automakers alongside General Motors and Ford.

Let's take a look back at the history of the company from its highest highs to its lowest lows, and everything in between.

The beginning

1925 Chrysler B70

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

Walter Chrysler formed his namesake automotive company in 1925, when his employer, Maxwell Motor Company, was reorganized. A little over a year earlier, Chrysler's first production car, the Chrysler 70 (above), was released and featured several forward-looking innovations. The car came with a high-compression engine that had full-pressure lubrication, an oil filter, and a carburetor air filter.

An early pioneer

Early on, Chrysler pioneered several other automotive features that would eventually take over the entire industry. Four-wheel hydraulic brakes, rubber engine mounts, and more were all Chrysler's inventions. The company also developed a ridged rim for its car's wheels, which was designed to prevent a deflated tire from flying off the rim at speed. It was eventually picked up by the entire global automotive industry.

Introducing ... Plymouth

Plymouth Hotel Algonquin 1935 taxi cab

Photo by Martin Forstenzer/Getty Images

In 1928, Chrysler Corporation introduced the Plymouth brand, which was intended to be a lower-priced alternative. Early Plymouth models were rebadged Chrysler cars with small four-cylinder engines. In the photo above, a Plymouth taxicab is parked in front of the Hotel Algonquin in New York City in 1935.

DeSoto was also unveiled at this time as a mid-range model line for the group. Not long after, Chrysler snapped up the Dodge Brothers auto and truck company.

Hello, Mopar

In a stroke of genius that remains a large part of the automotive world today, Chrysler coined the MoPar brand in the 1930s. As a combination of the words "motor parts," the name is still used to describe vehicles and parts in the Chrysler-Dodge world today.

Imperial, Valiant, DeSoto

By the mid-1950s, Chrysler had spun up more nameplates to join its empire. In 1955, Imperial became a brand of its own after a run as the range-topping Chrysler model, and in 1960 the Valiant brand name came to be. In 1961, Chrysler discontinued the DeSoto line.

Chrysler in space

Saturn 1B Kennedy apollo picture

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The automaker had a hand in the space program, too. In the late 1950s, NASA contracted Chrysler to build the first booster stage of the Saturn I and Saturn IB vehicles. The Saturn 1B is pictured above on January 22, 1968 launching Apollo 5 from Cape Kennedy, Florida, to complete the first flight test of an unmanned lunar module.

The company built the pieces for the Apollo Program at the Michoud Assembly Facility in East New Orleans, which was one of the largest manufacturing facilities on Earth at the time.

The future is now

1963 Plymouth Valiant

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Chrysler's forward thinking operations continued into the 1960s, when the automaker became the only of Detroit's Big Three to use a unibody design in its vehicles. Today, most passenger vehicles are unibody designs, but it was a novel idea at the time. Around the same time, the Valiant brand was moved back as a subsidiary of the Plymouth brand (a 1963 Plymouth Valiant is shown above), and became the first production car with an alternator.

Ooh, Barracuda

1965 Plymouth Barracuda

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In 1964, the Plymouth Barracuda was introduced (shown above as a 1965 model), almost two weeks before the unveiling of the Ford Mustang. Despite being first, the 'Cuda was outsold by the Mustang ten-to-one in its first year on the market. Chrysler had also set its sights on Europe by this time, and took a majority stake in the British Rootes Group in 1964. The venture was short-lived, however, as financial difficulties in the British company forced Chrysler to sell to PSA Peugeot Citroen in 1978.

Stiff competition, disastrous results

The 1970s proved to be a difficult time for Chrysler, as it was for all American car companies. Cheaper, smaller Japanese and European cars flooded the markets, as the oil crisis drove prices through the roof and made large, heavy cars almost immediately obsolete. Later in the decade, a rush to push new models to market led to massive warranty and repair costs for Chrysler, as its Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volare were hurried to market with poor construction and an even worse design.

Mr. Iacocca

1984 Plymouth Voyager

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In 1978, Lee Iacocca joined Chrysler as CEO after having been fired from Ford. Because of its missteps with the Aspen and Volare models, Chrysler was hemorrhaging cash at the time. Iacocca started retooling the automaker from scratch, which included many layoffs, the sale of European assets to Peugeot, and the creation of the project that would ultimately lead to the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager (1984 model shown above). The project was driven by former Ford executives after Henry Ford II denied its forward progress under his watch.

Iacocca realized that the company would not be able to survive without a significant influx of cash to turn its fortunes around. In September 1979, he asked Congress for a $1.5 billion loan, which led to the Chrysler Corporation Loan Guarantee Act of 1979. The military later purchased thousands of Dodge trucks from the company, which helped it recover and avoid bankruptcy.

The K-Car and the minivan

1982 Chrysler LeBaron

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In 1981, Chrysler released the first K-Car platform model - another rejected Ford project. The platform would go on to form the basis of several models throughout the decade (1982 Chrysler LeBaron shown above). In 1983, the first minivan was introduced, the success of which helped Chrysler repay the federal government the same year.

American Motors Corporation

The late 1980s were a consequential time for Chrysler. In 1987, the automaker was the subject of an investigation over its practice of disconnecting odometers during test drives before being shipped to dealers. The company settled out of court, but suffered a massive public relation hit. The same year, Iacocca led the acquisition of American Motors Corporation (AMC), which brought Jeep into the Chrysler fold for the first time. The Eagle brand was also created at this time.

Chrysler and Fiat Part I

In 1988, Chrysler and Fiat reached an agreement for the American automaker to be the exclusive distributed or Alfa Romeo in the United States, which lasted until Alfas were phased out in 1995. The early 1990s also saw Chrysler making a return to the streets of Europe, first with select Jeep models and then others.

DaimlerChrysler Motors Company

In 1998, Chrysler formed a 50-50 partnership with Daimler-Benz, and the automaker was renamed DaimlerChrysler Motors Company. Though it was supposed to be an even merger, Daimler-Benz was in the driver's seat. Plymouth was phased out in 2001, and the remaining auto brands went on to share platforms and technologies in vehicles that are still seen today. The marriage came to an end in 2007, when DaimlerChrysler AG sold the majority of its stake in Chrysler to Cerberus Capital Management. That sale led to a shuffle in management and a new logo.

Economic downturn

A Jeep sits in front of the empty showroom at Premier Chrysler June 8, 2009 in Chicago, Illinois. The dealership is 1 of the 789 Chrysler dealerships nationwide that are scheduled to close tomorrow. Today the Supreme Court delayed Chrysler\ufffds sale of most of its assets to a group led by Italy\ufffds Fiat. (

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

The financial crisis of 2008 cut deep into Chrysler's operations and stability. Late in that year, the company announced a 25 percent reduction in its salaried and contract workforce. Sales fell drastically for all automakers at that time, but Chrysler was particularly vulnerable after having been passed around through mergers and acquisitions over the years. In December 2008, President George W. Bush announced a rescue loan for the auto industry, which included Chrysler.

As part of a reorganization, Chrysler LLC and Fiat announced plans to form a global alliance. The agreement gave Fiat a large stake in Chrysler and led to several months of restructuring. By mid-2009, Fiat had taken a majority stake in Chrysler, and by 2014, the company we all know today had taken shape. In December of that year, Chrysler Group LLC's name was officially changed to FCA US LLC, or Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

Stellantis

New Stellantis company logo revealed ahead of Groupe PSA-Fiat Chrysler merger

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The next chapter of Chrysler is already written. The company will become part of Stellantis, a megacorporation that brings together the holdings of FCA with those of PSA Groupe. The deal closes in January 2021.

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