The new Clipper unveiled for 1953 helped Packard to a 43 percent jump in '53 production to 90,000 units. But the following model year it went the other way, dropping to fewer than 32,000 despite nicely face-lifted and more powerful Clippers. The reason was twofold. For one thing, by the time the 1954 Packard hit the market, the horsepower race had picked up considerably, and the lack of a V-8 was now a serious disadvantage.
With no V-8 engine to put under the hood, the
1954 Packard Clipper lost ground to the competition.
Meanwhile, Ford and GM were locked in a sales war. Discounting wildly and shipping cars to dealers whether they were ordered or not, the two giants made competition difficult for the independents and even Chrysler.
For the '54 model year, the highest-ranking independent was 11th-place Nash, which -- with Packard, Hudson, Kaiser, and Willys -- scored a postwar production low. (Only an artificially small run of its '46s kept Studebaker from joining this club, too.)
Added to the general peril of independents, Packard now had several problems unique unto itself. In 1953, Briggs Body Manufacturing Company, to which Packard had given all its body business in 1940, sold out to Chrysler, which was unwilling to continue Packard body production after '54.
Attempting to turn disappointment into opportunity, Packard President James Nance moved production (and the newly added duty of body production) out of the traditional Packard plant on Detroit's East Grand Boulevard and installed a line at a Conner Avenue plant one-fourth its size.
Whatever gains in efficiency the one-story layout of the Conner plant provided were more than wiped out by its cramped, clumsy production line, which, combined with ordinary transition nits, caused severe delivery shortages and quality problems among the 1955 models.
Then there was Studebaker, which Nance had purchased in 1954, expecting later to fold into American Motors, forming a broad-line company rivaling the "Big Three."
Studebaker was in far worse shape than it had represented itself, and American Motors, under new president George Romney, proved unwilling to pursue the dreamed-of merger.
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