I saw this thread by Chrycoman at http://www.forwardlook.net/forums/forums/thread-view.asp?tid=22899 and it give me the "following what if?": What if Walter Chrysler had chosen Joe Frazer instead of K.T. Keller to head Chrysler?
The lack of sales success with the Airflow most certainly resulted in conservative styling at Chrysler, but I suspect K.T. Keller played a very large role in that situation. He was the man that showed famed stylist Ray Dietrich the door, the man W.P. Chrysler hired to head Chrysler styling, such as it was.
Walter P. Chrysler became a recluse after his wife died in 1937. Given lead times, styling approved in 1937 would have been for 1939-40 models. Chrysler Corporation styling definitely became bland after that point.
And no argument over K.T. Keller - he was Chrysler's one mistake, as Robert Eaton was Iacocca's.
One contender for W.P.'s job was Joseph Washington Frazer. He was the man who came up with the Plymouth name and headed the sales campaigns for Chrysler Corporation that propelled Plymouth to #3 by 1931 and Chrysler Corporation to #2 by 1936. Plymouth would come within 100,000 of Ford production for 1941 and Chrysler would hit 25.1% of the market that same year. From that point on it was all downhill.
Although a sales person, Frazer believed both styling and engineering were needed for a car to be successful. After he left Chrysler in 1938, Frazer became head of Willys. His first action was make the Willys engine reliable (it was said you could tell how fast you were going by what fell off) and then make Willys styling modern and attractive. And his push to get Willys into Jeep production enabled the company to survive after the war.
Frazer left Willys in 1943 and took over Graham-Paige. At the end of WW II, G-P was working on a new medium-priced car called the Frazer, with styling by Howard "Dutch" Darrin. Having no money to underwrite such a project, he teamed up with Henry J. Kaiser - and the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation was born.
Just as Chrysler's first postwar styling plans were more in line with what GM was planning for 1949, Frazer's first styling proposals were more flowing and modern. K-F stylists boxed up the design, flattening the sides and levelling the belt line. Chrysler stylists raised the roof on their models and removed the integrated rear fenders. Chrysler's styling changes pleased Keller, but K-F's did not please either Frazer or Darrin.
To show how knowledgeable Frazer was, when K-F was making plans for the 1949 models, which were to receiving a minor styling freshening, Frazer advised the K-F board they should cut planned production as the opposition would be selling completely new cars. Kaiser and his supporters shot down the idea. Frazer came back with the statement that K-F would sell only about 60,000 cars and lose $33 million.
When the 1949 results were in, K-F sold 80,000 cars and lost $31 million. Not too shabby for an off the cuff estimate. The photo of the board meeting showing the members viewing the financial results for 1949 have all board members save Frazer with very solemn and serious looks on their faces. Frazer is shown sitting in his chair, chin resting on his fingers, looking up to the ceiling. It's almost as if you could hear the thought running through his mind, "I told you so! I told you so!"
By this time G-P was no longer in the car business, having sold its stock in K-F to the Kaisers and its plant on Warren Avenue to Chrysler. The plant was used for DeSoto body and engine production from 1950 through 1958 and then for assembly of the 1959-61 Imperials.
Although many interviewed Frazer on his work at Willys and K-F, no one it seems got his thoughts on working at Chrysler and why he left. I firmly believe if J.W. Frazer had succeeded W.P. Chrysler instead of K.T. Keller, Chrysler Corporation would have held on to #2 position after the war with more modern styling. I also doubt Frazer would have waited until 1954 to bring out a true automatic transmission on all models. Chrysler Corporation was the last manufacturer to offer one as everyone else had one by 1951. K-F offered Hydramatic on its 1950 models.
By the way, Oakland was the GM division and Pontiac the Oakland Motor Company's companion make. Of the companion makes the GM divisions introduced, only Pontiac would be so successful its parent, Oakland, would be laid to rest. LaSalle was also successful, but making the LaSalle models Cadillacs for 1941 sealed Cadillac's destiny to beat Packard and become #1 in the luxury market. Buick's Marquette and especially Oldsmobile's Viking were dead in the water from the beginning.
Companion makes were all the rage in the 1920's, beginning with Hudson's Essex. Others were Ajax (Nash), Erskine (Studebaker), Wolverine (Reo), Falcon-Knight (Willys-Knight), Roosevelt (Marmon), Blackhawk (Stutz), Diana (Moon), Jewett (Paige), and Cleveland (Chandler). Only Essex and Diana would not be absorbed by the parent make and only Essex would survive into the 1930's.