Chrysler is retiring its iconic icon, the Pentastar. The automaker has gone through profound changes since its emergence from bankruptcy in June 2009. Fiat and its outspoken CEO, Sergio Marchionne, took full control of the company, which merged with the Italian automaker to become Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, or simply FCA.
Now, the Auburn Hills, Michigan, maker of the Dodge Dart and Jeep Wrangler is refreshing its image by retiring what had been the company's symbol since 1963. For old-timers who came of driving age in the 1960s and '70s, Chrysler's logo conjures memories of cars like the New Yorker, the Dodge GTS and the Plymouth Barracuda. And though the logo still adorns dealerships and factories, it hasn’t decorated a vehicle since the 2000 Town & Country minivan.
The five-triangle Pentagon/star logo was created in 1962 after then-Chrysler president Lynn Townsend asked ad agency Lippincott & Margulies to come up with a universally relatable logo the company could use on all of its vehicles, signs and marketing materials. Townsend was also looking for something that wouldn’t go out of style, so the logo needed to eschew any automotive design trend. The Forward Look logo the Pentastar replaced had a Jet Age style that was popular in the 1950s when cars had large fins and rocket-shaped taillights. By the '60s, that logo was beginning to look outmoded.
After reviewing hundreds of samples, Chrysler settled on the Pentastar because, in Townsend’s words, it possessed a “very strong, engineered look” while remaining uncomplicated and easy to remember. The lack of text meant it could be used in any language.
But by the middle of the 1990s, the auto industry had fully embraced the idea of maintaining separate brandings for each division rather than using one overarching brand and logo to cover all. Consumers are loyal to brands, the logic goes, not to manufacturers. The Pentastar used to appear on all Chrysler vehicles, but by the end of the century it was difficult to find it on any of them as the company focused on creating distinct brand identities.
“By , the symbol had already begun its decline, with Chrysler favoring a distinctive branding approach for each division instead,” Kurt Ernst writes at the Hemmings Daily classic car news site.
Ed Garsten, FCA's head of digital media, said by email that Chrysler's Auburn Hills headquarters is still crowned by its giant Pentastar window. “There are no plans at all to alter it in any way,” he said. “We love that window.”
After Daimler AG acquired Chrysler in 1998, the logo went into semiretirement, remaining on the company’s headquarters because Daimler felt it was too costly to take it down. The logo was brought back nine years later after private-equity firm Cerberus Capital Management bought 80 percent of the company from the German maker of Mercedes-Benz in a highly publicized $7.4 billion deal. As if to say Chrysler was finally coming home, the Pentastar logo was revvied in the company's marketing.
The purchase from Daimler occured in 2007, just as the housing market was tanking. Within a year struggling Chrysler was teetering on insolvency. The government-adminstered Chapter 11 reorganization that ended in 2009 cost taxpayers $1.3 billion and at the start of the year returned Chrysler to European control.
Then, last month the next step in Chrysler’s profound series of changes took place that marked the death of the Pentastar.
“On Sunday [Oct. 12], Detroit time, our company officially became Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. as FCA shares began trading on the stock exchange in Milan, Italy, and on Monday, on the New York Stock Exchange,” Garsten said in a blog post.
“These people are stupid,” wrote one Facebook user. “I really can’t believe they would discard one of the most recognizable symbols in automotive history.” Another said, “The Italians would have been better off not trying to fix what ain't broke!”
Correction: Story was changed to remove reference to the Jeep CJ-6. Though Jeep carried Chrysler's Pentastar logo in the 1990s, the company didn't acquire the Jeep brand from American Motors Corporation until 1987. The story was also changed to include the comment from Garsten.