The Long-Forgotten Japanese-American Duo of Diamond-Star Motors
Brand engineering is nothing new; automakers have been engaging in the practice for decades. It’s produced some of the most memorable but also the most obscure vehicles people enjoy today, including some cult classics. One of the origin points of some widely-liked compact cars of the 1990s were produced in such a fashion. Examples, like the Laser, Talon, Colt, and Eclipse were made by the long-forgotten company of Diamond-Star Motors.
What is Diamond-Star Motors?
Diamond-Star Motors was a joint venture between America’s Chrysler Corporation and Japan’s Mitsubishi Motors that began in 1985. Yet, the corporate collaboration has its roots in the decade before. In the 1970s, Mitsubishi sought expansion into foreign markets—particularly the U.S.—and Chrysler needed an entry-level economy car to combat the post-oil crisis years. The result was the compact Dodge Colt, a rebadged Mitsubishi Galant. Subsequently, Chrysler was able to recoup market share lost to Toyota, Nissan, and Honda, and Mitsubishi gained credibility.
In 1982, however, there was a problem. American automotive manufacturers abided by a voluntary import limit. Hagerty reports that Chrysler brought in 110,000 Mitsubishis annually, and every rebadged Mitsubishi sold went against the quota. By that time, Chrysler owned 15 percent of Mitsubishi, but instead of buying more, the two decided to go into business. Taking a page out of the book other Japanese automakers followed to avoid import quotas, Chrysler and Mitsubishi formed Diamond-Star Motors.
Where did the name come from?
Diamond-Star Motors utilizes the logos of the two companies. Mitsubishi has a triumvirate of diamonds as its symbol, and Chrysler has the Pentastar.
True to the 50-50 partnership logo, each company invested half the money to build a facility in Normal, Illinois. Yet, Diamond-Star Motors was actually managed by Mitsubishi.
What were some Diamond-Star Motors cars?
The first vehicle to roll off the production line was the Plymouth Colt. Essentially, it was a rebadged Mitsubishi Mirage, only available in a four-door hatchback configuration. The normal Mirage from Diamond-Star Motors, however, came in a variety of body styles, including hatchback, sedan, and coupe.
A sportier of the same platform was the foundation of some quite legendary cars from Diamond-Star Motors. The Mitsubishi Eclipse, Eagle Talon, and Plymouth Laser became popular among car enthusiasts for their performance capabilities. Despite their claim on the North American market, all Diamond-Star Motors cars utilized Japanese-built engines and transmissions.
What happened to the collaboration?
The Illinois production plant had an annual capacity of 240,00 vehicles. Despite the more athletic selections of the bunch receiving top marks, production never approached capacity. In 1991, Chrysler was struggling to stay alive financially. To streamline operations, they sold its half of Diamond-Star Motors to Mitsubishi. Production of the before mentioned cars continued, but by 1995, the company closed up shop. The Japanese company was renamed the corporation Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing of America.
Although Diamond-Star Motors production ended, the plant would be pumping out cars through 2015. But Mitsubishi looked to focus more on the Asian market and decided to bring the building back to Japan. A buyer was found in EV manufacturer Rivian, which acquired the Normal, Illinois, plant in 2017.