FORBES @ 100: JULY 15, 1931

Forbes - - CONTENTS -

As the De­pres­sion deep­ened, U.S. car­mak­ers pan­icked. Wal­ter Chrysler had an idea: a drive through Death Val­ley. Oddly, it worked.

WAL­TER P. CHRYSLER faced a cri­sis: Nine­teen thirty-one was the worst year for busi­ness since the in­ven­tion of the au­to­mo­bile.

Chrysler re­sponded by dou­bling down on a bur­geon­ing area of his em­pire: the lower-priced Ply­mouth line he had in­tro­duced three years ear­lier. Chrysler ad­ver­tise­ments of the time her­alded the new 1931 Ply­mouth as “float­ing power” with “the smooth­ness of an eight [cylin­der] . . . the econ­omy of a four.” A four­door, three-win­dow sedan started at $635, or roughly $10,300 in to­day’s dol­lars.

Chrysler in­structed his com­pany to em­bark on a new train­ing pro­gram for deal­ers to en­sure they un­der­stood the ve­hi­cle—and could sell it well. The reg­i­men in­cluded an ed­u­ca­tional film that showed the Ply­mouth travers­ing the “worst roads in the United States,” in Death Val­ley, where the tem­per­a­ture reg­u­larly tops 130 de­grees.

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