With little fanfare, the final Plymouth has rolled off a Chrysler assembly line.
The car, a silver Neon LX with a 2.0-liter engine and a five-speed manual transmission, was built on June 28, in Belvidere, Ill., finishing the division's 74-year run. The $18,210 Neon went to Darrell Davis, the Chrysler vice president for parts and service operations, who added the car to his collection of vintage automobiles.
It was fitting that the final Plymouth was an economy car because Walter P. Chrysler created the brand in 1928 to attract entry-level customers. It took Plymouth just six years to sell a million vehicles. Chrysler used Plymouth as a repository for affordable, sometimes peppy models designed to bring in young buyers. Its high-water mark came in 1973, when sales peaked at nearly 750,000, thanks to spunky models like the Road Runner.
But Plymouth had trouble fighting off competition from American and Japanese rivals in the 1980s. Chrysler executives decided to give Plymouth one last surge of products in the mid-1990s to see if the brand could survive.
First came the Neon, in 1994. The next year brought the Plymouth Breeze. The Plymouth Prowler, an eye-catching roadster with exposed front suspension, arrived in 1996.
Nothing really helped. DaimlerChrysler, the parent company, announced in November 1999 that Plymouth would depart at the close of the 2001 model year. Chrysler has transferred Plymouth's lineup: the Prowler and the Voyager minivan became Chryslers; Dodge sells the Neon; the Breeze was dropped last year.
Eliminating Plymouth made financial sense, but Chrysler has had trouble hanging on to Plymouth customers, who tend to be younger and less educated and earn less per year than the average car buyer, said Art Spinella, an analyst with CNW Marketing Research in Bandon, Ore.
"People who were buying Plymouth Neons don't buy Dodge Neons," he said. "They buy Hyundais and Kias and Daewoos."