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MINI-MARVEL

THE CRITICAL PATH
Inventing an Automobile and Reinventing a Corporation
By Brock Yates
Little, Brown -- 306pp -- $24.95

No single vehicle is more important to a major auto maker than the minivan is to Chrysler Corp. Since its introduction in 1983, it has revolutionized family transportation and helped prevent Chrysler's demise. When the company set out to remake its by-then-signature product in the early 1990s, the stakes couldn't have been higher.

In The Critical Path, Brock Yates, editor-at-large for Car & Driver magazine, captures the drama of Chrysler's $3 billion gamble on a complete redesign of its minivan line. It's all there: the fights over a myriad of design and engineering decisions, the wars with Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp., and the immense pressure on Chrysler's team to top its grand achievement. Few books explain better the insanely intricate and expensive process of creating a new model in Detroit.

Along the way, Yates weaves a novelistic tale of Chrysler's transition from the iron rule of Lee Iacocca to the team-oriented leadership of Chairman Robert Eaton and President Robert Lutz. He does stumble a bit with a florid writing style. And his paper-thin account of the attempted hostile takeover of Chrysler by Iacocca and investor Kirk Kerkorian blatantly echoes the interpretation of Chrysler management, which was not as surprised by the bid as it led the public to believe. But when Yates sticks to cars and trucks, he succeeds in explaining an industry whose workings are a mystery to the Big Three's millions of customers.

The new Chrysler minivan has been an unqualified hit. How it got there is a fascinating tale of a corporation that wasn't afraid to break the mold.

By Bill Vlasic


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Updated June 14, 1997 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1996, Bloomberg L.P.
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