Chrysler’s Savior: A History Of The K-Car

Released to the world in 1981, Chrysler’s K-platform has been both lauded and laughed at for its simplicity, malleability and the role it played in saving Chrysler during the early 80s. Let’s take an in-depth stroll through the history of the platform that simultaneously saved one of the Big Three American automakers and gave them a new lease on life. We’ll look at the decisions and geopolitical environment that led to the development of the iconic platform and the impact it had on the market. To give us context for the K-platform’s conception, we’ll begin with the crises that molded the automotive industry from the early ‘70s through the ‘80s.

The Oil Crises

In October of 1973, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Nations declared an embargo on nations it viewed as supporting Israel during the Yom Kippur War, a twenty-day standoff With Egypt and Syria on one side and Israel on the other. Countries that were targeted by the embargo included the United States, Canada, Japan, The Netherlands and the UK. With oil supplies severely reduced, the affected nations were forced to institute fuel rations and faced shortages. To conserve fuel, legislation was passed requiring automakers limit their horsepower, fuel economy and emissions. The embargo lasted until March of the following year, by which time oil prices had skyrocketed from $3 per barrel to $12.

By the time 1979 rolled around, the market had more or less stabilized again. That is, until the Iranian revolution. During the uprising, production of Iranian oil was pulled back, reducing the global production by about 4%. While the reduction in global oil production was manageable, memories of the ‘73 shortages whipped up a public panic, causing prices to rocket skyward again. These rising fuel prices, combined with Government mandated low consumption vehicles are what laid the groundwork for both Chryslers decline and the rise of the K-Car.