Yates, as the proverbial fly on the wall, observes the internal workings of Chrysler, from the boardrooms to the assembly...


THE CRITICAL PATH: Inventing an Automobile and Reinventing a Corporation

Yates, as the proverbial fly on the wall, observes the internal workings of Chrysler, from the boardrooms to the assembly lines, at a critical moment in its recent history. Long-time automobile observer Yates, a regular contributor to Car and Driver and other magazines, was allowed unlimited access to the Chrysler Corporation from 1992 on, just when the company was preparing its follow-up to its phenomenally successful minivan line. Chrysler, which had enjoyed fat sales since the 1984 introduction (and invention) of the minivan, had grown soft in its triumph; designers were still relying on the old K car design for new models, and quality control was at an all-time low. Chrysler's next car would make or break the company. Yates ably reconstructs the endless meetings and virtual reinvention of the assembly line that occurred over the next few years. The line was shifted to the Japanese method of kan ban, or ""just in time"" inventory control, which also allowed control of costs by having parts suppliers key their production to Chrysler's needs. Chrysler also took on and turned around AMC/Renault--where workers still used vacuum tubes available only from the Soviet Union--by restoring the Jeep. Yates is at his best when he details the actual building of cars: the repetition of trials, the methods of applying paint, and the sizes of the nuts and bolts. He also admires the ingenuity of the Chrysler engineers, who were under enormous pressure not only to make a new car quickly but also to make it cheaply. The other aspects of Chrysler's history (for example, lee Iacocca's legacy and the corporate infighting under the shadow of Kirk Kerkorian) are less well rendered, but it's the engineers and the assembly line workers, after all, who eventually built Chrysler's new pride and joy, the Town & Country. An informed history of a company in turmoil and the inside story of America's obsession, for better or worse, with cars.

Pub Date: Aug. 12, 1996


Page Count: 320

Publisher: "Little, Brown"

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1996