How Eagle Cars Work

Eagle Talon and Eagle Vision

The Eagle Vision was an attempt at an American-made "European" style sedan.
The Eagle Vision was an attempt at an American-made "European" style sedan.

The one "domestic" in the Eagle flock was the sharp Talon sports coupe, which bowed in early 1989 as a spinoff of the new 1990 Mitsubishi Eclipse and Plymouth Laser. All three versions were built in Illinois at the new Diamond-Star Motors plant that Chrysler and Mitsubishi had just set up as a 50/50 joint venture. But though Talon was an enthusiast's delight in top-line all-wheel-drive turbocharged form, it was really a Japanese car and thus another Eagle beyond our scope.

A true American Eagle finally appeared in the new-for-'93 Vision. Though this, too, was built in Canada, it was designed in Detroit as one of the "cab-forward" LH sedans setting a bold new direction for Chrysler styling. Befitting Eagle's mission, Vision was conceived as more "European" than the Chrysler Concorde and Dodge Intrepid, but in the way of corporate cousins it achieved this largely through appropriate styling details and features. Like Intrepid, Vision bowed in regular and premium models, respectively labeled ESi (3.3-liter pushrod V-6) and TSi (twincam 3.5 V-6).

Far more than most home-grown four-doors, Vision was a credible Euro-style sports sedan, though it was no BMW. At best, performance was brisk rather than thrilling, but handling was crisp and responsive thanks to the wide-stance LH chassis with all-independent suspension. The TSi even boasted standard all-disc antilock brakes and, from 1994, speed-variable power steering.

Vision also had the appealingly swoopy cab-forward shape that combined with a long 113-inch wheelbase to provide unusually spacious seating for five. Road noise was annoyingly high and some interior trim looked none too classy. Overall though, Vision was an impressive package, earning Consumer GuideĀ® "Best Buy" honors (along with its Chrysler LH stablemates).

Unfortunately for product planners, Vision sales were disappointingly modest, running a poor third to Concorde on only 30-40 percent of Intrepid's volume. Production was around 30,000 for model-year '93 and stubbornly stuck to that level through '95. Price was a likely factor in this lackluster performance. Though Vision was carefully pitched between its LH sisters, Eagle dealers complained it was tough to sell because customers thought it overpriced.

Chrysler countered that Visions came with more standard equipment than comparable Intrepids and Concordes, and urged dealers to make sure customers understood that. If buyers did understand, they didn't show it, for production of the 1996-97 models sagged to about 15,500 combined.

It also didn't help that the car itself was little changed, though the '96 ESi received two worthy upgrades in standard 16-inch wheels (replacing 15s) and Chrysler's new AutoStick feature that allowed the automatic transmission to be shifted somewhat like a manual. But the '97 Visions were virtual reruns, and Talon sales were languishing, too.

With all this, no one was surprised when Chrysler dropped Vision after '97 and Talon after model year '98, thus ending a nameplate that had seemed a good idea 10 years before, but just didn't pan out. A prime motivation was Chrysler's desire to cut overhead by trimming its dealer body, which it did over the next few years by combining Jeep-Eagle stores with Chrysler-Plymouth outlets wherever practical.

It proved a timely move. Sport-utility vehicles were Jeep's stock-in-trade, SUV sales were booming, and Jeep's image was forever golden. As a result, the new Chrysler-Plymouth-Jeep dealers were generally more-profitable than they'd been as either C-P or Jeep-Eagle stores. Company accountants cheered.

The Eagle Talon saw its last model year in 1998, as the Eagle name was dropped.

In the end, Eagle failed because neither Chrysler nor the public knew quite what to make of it. A hodge-podge lineup and spotty promotion implied Chrysler wasn't fully committed to the nameplate and also left consumers confused about what an Eagle was -- if they knew the name at all.

The cars were far from losers, yet no model achieved the desirability or clear image of import competitors and even some domestic rivals. Eagle was no Edsel, but Chrysler should have remembered a lesson from that unhappy Ford experience: Respect for any car is always earned, never bestowed.

For more on defunct American cars, see: