Chrysler's roller coaster started way before the most recent government bailout in early 2009; under new leadership by ex-Ford executive Lee Iacocca, the company received a government lifeline back in 1979. Cash in hand, Iacocca steered the troubled vessel into calmer, more prosperous waters in the 1980s, led in part by the success of its minivan sales. In 1998, Daimler-Benz — the German automobile company and maker of the luxury Mercedes-Benz — announced a whopping $36 billion merger with Chrysler Corporation; it was the largest purchase of a U.S. company by a foreign buyer in U.S. history. The deal lasted less than a decade before Daimler sold Chrysler to private equity; by then, much of the promise the initial merger held had been squandered.
Since its bankruptcy, Chrysler has come back strong under its new partnership with Italian automaker Fiat. With a focus on better quality and refreshed models — including a full Viper makeover and continued development of its successful Jeep — Chrysler remains firmly on the rise. But as we've seen in the past, the life of an automaker tends to roll more wildly than a ride at Busch Gardens.