15 December 2016

What killed Diamond-Star Motors?

John Ryan wasn’t old enough to drive when the first cars rolled off the assembly line at Diamond-Star Motors in the late 1980s. But once Ryan got his hands on an Eagle Talon, he held on tight.

“I really love ’em,” said the Michigan resident, who has been buying, repairing and selling Talons and Plymouth Lasers for almost two decades. “They handle well for the car’s weight; you can toss ’em into a corner pretty hard. And the acceleration is fantastic – if you can get them to shift. It seems like the transmission is torn up in every one that I get because everybody drives them like they’re supercars.”

Ryan, 36, said he has owned 58 Talons/Lasers since he bought his first one, a 1990 Talon, in 1997. “That’s the only non-turbo Talon I’ve ever owned,” said Ryan, who still owns two, one of which he used to race. “They’re just great cars for the money. Easy to work on and boost the power, and cheap to modify. I definitely would’ve bought one new if I had been older when they came out.”

So what led to Diamond-Star’s demise? DSM’s story reads a lot like a marriage counselor’s notebook. Chrysler and Mitsubishi met on the dance floor in the 1970s, intensified their relationship in the early ’80s, and then decided – in spite of some red flags – to tie the knot and become Mr. and Mrs. Diamond-Star Motors in 1985. Oh, sure, things were good for a bit. But communication was an issue, secrets were kept and the two eventually grew apart. Divorce was inevitable.

Fortunately for the automotive world, even the most turbulent of relationships sometime produce great offspring. Take Ryan’s beloved Talon/Laser, for instance. The Eagle-Plymouth duo and Mitsubishi Eclipse are basically the same vehicles – front-wheel or all-wheel drive 2+2 sports cars – with different badges, all built at DSM.

Diamond-Star’s roots can be traced to the early 1970s, when Mitsubishi began looking to expand into foreign markets and Chrysler stepped up and purchased 15 percent of the company’s stock. The deal proved mutually beneficial. Chrysler filled a void at the lower end of in its lineup with the Dodge Colt – also known as the Mitsubishi Galant – and Mitsubishi gained exposure and legitimacy outside Japan.

Burton Bouwkamp, a former Chrysler product planner and Mitsubishi Motors Board member, told Allpar.com: “Both Mitsubishi and Chrysler were looking for partners and found each other. Lynn Townsend (Chrysler VP of International at the time) wanted Chrysler to be a global company, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) wanted someone to teach its automotive subsidiary, Mitsubishi Motors Corporation (MMC), how to make money in the car business. MMC was a wholly owned subsidiary of MHI and had seldom – if ever – returned a profit to the parent company.”

That soon changed. MMC’s annual automobile production passed 1 million in 1980, and – according to FundingUniverse.com – by 1982 Chrysler was importing 110,000 Mitsubishis annually. MMC also began selling directly to Americans through its own U.S. dealerships. There was one little problem: A voluntary import limit was in place, and every Mitsubishi sold went against Chrysler’s quota. Awkward to say the least.

The solution? Joining other Japanese automakers who began building production facilities in the U.S. to avoid these import quotas, Mitsubishi and Chrysler formed Diamond-Star Motors in 1985. Diamond-Star, a name derived from the companies’ diamond and star logos, immediately broke ground on a 1,900,000-square-foot plant in Normal, Ill. According to Allpar.com, although Chrysler put up 50 percent of the $650 million necessary to build the facility, it left management to Mitsubishi. In addition, MMC’s Japanese facilities provided engines and transmissions.

The DSM plant, with an annual capacity of 240,000 vehicles, was completed in March 1988. Diamond-Star’s Eclipse / Laser / Talon were well received, but overall auto production never approached capacity. In 1991, with Chrysler in financial woes, the automaker sold its half of DSM to Mitsubishi. By 1995, DSM was no more – officially renamed Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing of America.

Bouwkamp told Allpar.com that while Mitsubishi and Chrysler’s styling departments collaborated at DSM, their engineering and manufacturing departments did not. He wished they had. “MMC’s manufacturing quality was much better than Chrysler’s. We could have learned a lot from MMC.”

On the other hand, Bouwkamp said there was a lack of transparency, exacerbated by cultural barriers. “My office was across the street from MMC and I was on their Board of Directors. I saw MMC personnel nearly every day and our relations were very good, but I never felt that I really knew what was going on. For example, I had no real visibility of their product costs – neither tooling cost nor part cost. I was an observer and the picture was fuzzy. MMC personnel were always very polite to me … (but) I did not get the level of detail that I wanted. Language was obviously part of the problem. Another part was cultural; Japanese are taught to only answer the question asked and not to volunteer information broader than the specific question.”

The former DSM plant continued building automobiles for Mitsubishi for two decades – including the Outlander SUV and electric i-MiEV – but production there ended in November 2015 as MMC announced it wanted to focus on the Asian market.

No obituary would be complete without highlighting the deceased’s accomplishments. Arguably the best-known Diamond-Star products are the aforementioned Eclipse / Laser / Talon. First-generation DSMs were powered by Mitsubishi’s 1.8-liter and 2.0-liter inline-four engines or (in the Eclipse GS Turbo, all-wheel-drive Eclipse GSX, Talon TSi and all-wheel-drive Talon TSi) a turbocharged 2.0-liter 16-valve DOHC 4G63T.

Diamond-Star dropped the Laser after the 1994 model year, but second-gen Eclipses and Talons carried either naturally aspirated 2.0- or 2.4-liter inline-fours, or the turbocharged 2.0-liter 4G63T (in the Eclipse GS-T, Eclipse Spyder GS-T, Eclipse GSX and Talon TSi). Buyers could choose a four-speed automatic or five-speed manual transmission.

Other cars built at the Diamond-Star plant during the MMC-Chrysler years were the Mitsubishi Mirage/Lancer, Plymouth Colt and Eagle Summit. While fans like John Ryan can only imagine what might have been, he chooses to look on the bright side.

“At least they built what they did,” he said.

8 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Bruce C CO December 21, 2016 at 18:46
    I've owned a 1992 Talon TSi AWD since 1998. I bought it with 40,000 miles on it. I love it. It's good looking, small, fast, and well screwed together.
  • 2
    Peter R. B.C., Canada December 21, 2016 at 23:56
    I had a 1988 Plymouth Colt as my first car back in 1996. I kept it for ten years. The only problems I had with it were the vent fan motor speed switch lost two speeds (only ran on "fast" and "very fast") and the feedback carburetor went out-of-whack (causing the car to fail pollution testing). I rebuilt the carb and it flew through testing afterwards. I sold the car not long afterwards, but I look back now and I think I should have kept it. Oh well...
  • 3
    stephen messina MD December 22, 2016 at 08:09
    Have to make a slight correction to your article,you need to add the Avenger to the cars produced at that plant ,bought one brand new in 95 and on the door sill plates,manufacture sticker on door jamb and under hood plate Diamond Star Motor corp was listed as manufacture,not Chrysler or Dodge .And it handled better than the Talon and Eclipse,drove both of those before choosing the Avenger.The jeep Cherokee even handled better on curvy roads than the Talon or Eclipse they had the tendency to want to launch off the curvy roads and also on a straightaway if you had to make a quick evasive movement had the tendency to go in to a tail spin ( had one wipe out right in front of me !!!!
  • 4
    Birney Montcalm Douglasville, GA December 22, 2016 at 09:20
    Was wondering if the compact Dodge Rampage pickup was built by Diamond-Star also. Recently ran across one in a parking lot, unrestored, needing only some TLC, and wondered if the owner really appreciated what he/she had. Almost left a note on his windshield to see if they were interested in selling. It was a real head-turner, but very low production numbers, apparently.
  • 5
    andy albany ny December 22, 2016 at 10:07
    Both my sons own TSI's AWD cars, one with 29,000 mi and the other just turned 100,000, both are stock mechanically and the low mi one has some really nice custom work on the body and the paint. I am looking for a nice TSI body, shell for the higher mi car as the underside is shot, car looks brand new exterior wise. The rockers and frame are done for, it is a shame the car must have been in water or moisture for a period. If anyone knows of any available mech poor or shot TSI's I would appreciate an email andyatsupreme@yahoo.com, Thanks
  • 6
    Brian Falasz Normal, IL January 3, 2017 at 14:42
    I was lucky enough to have spent 27 years at DSM and then MMNA as both a hourly line worker and salaried supervisor. I agree...The Eagle Talon TSi and Mitsubishi Eclipse in the AWD Turbo version 2.0 liter engine were some of the fastest and most fun cars to build and drive. Now, if I may, I would like to set the record straight....The plant in Normal, IL built the Mitsubishi Eclipse, Plymouth Laser, and Eagle Talon as our first generation models. The Eclipse and Talon were the only models available with the 2.0L turbocharged variations in either FWD or AWD. With the exit of Chrysler in the mid 1990's, we saw the elimination of the Plymouth and Eagle Talon brands and the turbo engine option. The Eclipse lived on with only a normally aspirated engine. The other vehicles produced in the facility were as follows: Mitsubishi Mirage and Eagle Summit - 4 door sub compact Dodge Stratus/Dodge Avenger/Chrysler Sebring - 2 door coupe (based on the Eclipse) Mitsubishi Galant - 4 door sedan Mitsubishi Endeavor - 5 door SUV - AWD or FWD Mitsubishi Outlander Sport - 5 door CUV - AWD or FWD (thru 2015 model) I am proud to say that in 2003, our plant was recognized by the Harbour Report for being one of the most efficient auto plants IN THE WORLD!!! Our facility was the only facility to ever have 6 different models on the same assembly line...a feat to this day which has not been repeated. Mitsubishi Raider pickup trucks were built for MMNA by Chrysler at the Warren Michigan. The electric cars, Mitsubishi iMiev's, are made in Japan. The end of production on November 30, 2015 was the end of a great run here in the US for Mitsubishi. The plant saw its last official day on May 31, 2016. Not a bad run...Job 1 was in September of 1988 ( A RED Eclipse) and 3.2 million cars later, we watched the last Outlander Sport exit the shipping door on November 23, 2016. All in all, I would have to say it was a great run...
  • 7
    Mark Steward Fort Collins CO January 29, 2017 at 23:42
    I too worked there for over 10 years until 1999. I am still proud to have been a part of the company and really enjoyed it most when we were Diamond Star. The company always took great care of us and we always took great care in our quality of work we felt we provided. A Black Eagle Talon or Red Eclipse with all the options were my favorites to see come down the line. Still have some memorabilia they gave us when it first opened if anyone desires them.
  • 8
    Dean Marshall Canada April 18, 2017 at 13:18
    Brian and Mark I have been into DSM's since I bought a new one in 1990. I still have it plus five more. One of my biggest regrets is not touring the factory when they were manufactured. I would be really interested in any pictures or video of the plant when dsm's were assembled.

Join the Discussion