||This article includes a list of references, related reading or external links, but its sources remain unclear because it lacks inline citations. (April 2009)|
|Fate||Sold to Jeep|
|Founder(s)||Henry J. Kaiser|
|Headquarters||Willow Run, United States|
|Key people||Henry J. Kaiser|
|Owner(s)||Henry J. Kaiser|
Kaiser Motors (formerly Kaiser-Frazer) Corporation made automobiles at Willow Run, Michigan, United States, from 1945 to 1953. In 1953, Kaiser merged with Willys-Overland to form Willys Motors Incorporated, moving its production operations to the Willys plant at Toledo, Ohio. The company changed its name to Kaiser Jeep Corporation in 1963.
Originally formed as the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation in 1945, the firm was reorganized in 1953 under the name Kaiser Motors Corporation after withdrawal of Joseph W. Frazer from the venture. The Kaiser-Frazer stock was redeemed and Kaiser Motors stock was issued at that time. Kaiser Motors manufactured automobiles in a number of locations around the world with the primary facility and corporate headquarters at Willow Run, Michigan.
The company, founded by Henry J. Kaiser, a United States industrialist, and Joseph W. Frazer, president of the Graham-Paige Corporation, started making automobiles with the brand names Kaiser and Frazer almost immediately after World War II. Kaiser-Frazer also built a small car called the Henry J, named for Henry Kaiser. A slightly re-designed version of the Henry J was sold by selected Sears Auto Centers during 1952 and 1953 under the brand name Allstate. This car was tagged as a product of Sears-Roebuck. While listed for informational purposes in the Sears "wish books", the car could not be purchased by mail order.
In 1948, after too many disputes with Henry Kaiser, Joseph Frazer resigned as president of Kaiser-Frazer; Henry Kaiser's oldest son, Edgar, was made president in April 1949. The Frazer marque was discontinued after the 1951 models. Joseph Frazer remained as a sales consultant and vice-chairman of the Kaiser-Frazer board until 1953. At the 1953 annual stockholders' meeting, Kaiser-Frazer Corporation's name was changed by stockholder vote to Kaiser Motors Corporation. Shortly before meeting, Kaiser-Frazer's Kaiser Manufacturing Corporation division worked out a deal to purchase certain assets (and assume certain liabilities) of the Willys-Overland Corporation, makers of Willys cars and Jeep vehicles. After completing the acquisition, Kaiser Manufacturing Corporation changed its name to Willys Motors, Incorporated. During late 1953 and 1954, Kaiser Motors operations at Willow Run Michigan were closed down or moved to the Willys facility in Toledo, Ohio. Kaiser car production in the United States ended during 1955.
Kaiser suffered the ultimate fate of all independent American auto manufacturers in the postwar period. While sales were initially strong because of a car-starved public, the company did not have the resources to survive long-term competition with GM, Ford, and Chrysler. The original Kaiser-Frazer design got out of date quickly and lacked body styles aside from a sedan or other important features like V8 engines, none of which they ever had the money to invest in. Frazer especially suffered as a luxury make from its plodding six-cylinder engine. The Henry J, while a well-meaning idea, was a waste of valuable resources that could have been used to upgrade the main Kaiser line. The Willow Run plant was also extremely expensive to operate. Kaiser tried to get around its deficiencies with schemes like elaborate designer interiors with fancy dashboards and upholstery. A line of "Traveler" sedans with the trunk connected to the interior of the car were an improvised attempt at a station wagon. Frazers were also offered in "Virginian" models which consisted of an ordinary framed roof line with a roll-down convertible top.
Henry Kaiser also ignored his business partner's protests to not tool up for 250,000 cars in 1949 when the company now had to face all-new designs from the Big Three. Joe Frazer wanted to scale back production and then produce a redesigned 1950 model, but Kaiser angrily retorted "The Kaisers never retrench!". The company sold only half its projected volume that year. After ceasing US production in 1955, Kaiser's son Edgar summed up their failure. "Slap a Buick label on and it would sell like hotcakes."
At the end of 1955, the management team of the Henry J. Kaiser Company used Kaiser Motors Corporation to create a new holding company encompassing the various Kaiser industrial activities. Kaiser Motors' name was changed to Kaiser Industries Corporation, and functioned as a holding company for various Kaiser business holdings including Willys Motors Incorporated.
U.S. production of Kaiser and Willys passenger cars ceased during the 1955 model year, but production of Willys Jeeps in Toledo, Ohio, continued. Kaiser continued automobile production in Argentina under the Industrias Kaiser Argentina (IKA) company established in Santa Isabel, Córdoba and Willys passenger cars moved to Brazil under the Willys-Overland do Brasil company, using the dies formerly employed in the U.S. well into the 1960s.
The company changed its name to Kaiser Jeep in 1963. By 1969, Kaiser Industries decided to leave the auto business, which was sold to American Motors Corporation (AMC) in 1970. As part of the transaction, Kaiser acquired a 22% interest in AMC, which it later divested. Included in the sale was the General Products Division, which Kaiser had purchased from Studebaker in 1964 as it prepared to leave the auto business itself. AMC renamed the division AM General, which still operates today, and is best known as the manufacturer of the Humvee, and civilian Hummer H1.
- Kaiser, includes Deluxe, Carolina, Traveler, Dragon and Manhattan sedans.
- Frazer includes Standard, Deluxe and Manhattan sedans and the Vagabond hatchback.
- Henry J, a small economy car including Corsair and Vagabond.
- Darrin, the first production fiberglass sports car in the USA, beating the Corvette to market by one month. Featured a unique "pocket door" design that made the doors slide into the fender of the car. Only 435 were made for the 1954 model year.
- Willys, including "Aero-Willys" and all sub-trim levels include Aero-Lark, Aero Ace, etc.
- Jeep, including pick-ups, CJ (civilian Jeep) vehicles, all steel wagons, Wagoneer, and Jeepster marques.
- Allstate, designed to sell through and by Sears-Roebuck department stores in the southern United States, a slightly restyled Henry J. The cars were equipped with Allstate products (tires, battery, etc.). The modest styling changes distinguishing the Allstate from the Henry J were executed by Alex Tremulis, the co-designer of the 1948 Tucker Sedan.
Kaiser Motors now produces racing versions of cars, and will be producing the classic cars again in the near future.
- Mueller, Jack (2005). Built to Better the Best: The Kaiser-Frazer Corporation History. MT Publishing. ISBN 978-1-932439-33-5.
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