One of America's most storied automotive brands, Dodge has been around since the early days of the auto industry. In the past couple of decades, it has revitalized itself to be a producer of aggressively styled and performance-oriented vehicles.
Two brothers, Horace and John Dodge, began the Dodge Brothers Motor Vehicle company in 1914, after having worked as manufacturers of bicycles and automotive parts. Their first vehicle was a touring car that proved a fast favorite with car buyers; it was soon joined by a roadster and a four-door sedan. By 1917, the company's model line had grown to include trucks. Dodge cars and trucks were used as staff vehicles and ambulances in World War I.
Dodge was briefly owned by a banking firm and subsequently sold by its new owner to the Chrysler Corporation in 1928. From there, the brand slowly evolved into the division responsible for trucks and performance-oriented cars. Post WWII, Dodge introduced vehicles like the military-inspired Power Wagon truck, Hemi-powered Coronet and the Royal Lancer; in addition, the manufacturer began offering dealer-installed air-conditioning.
Vehicles like the Dodge Dart and the Coronet kept the manufacturer in American driveways throughout the 1960s. That decade also saw the launch of one of Dodge's most iconic vehicles, the Charger. Dodge's muscle car was based on the Coronet platform, and featured a fastback roof line, hidden headlamps and a full-width taillamp panel. Best of all, the Charger could pack one heck of a wallop under the hood. A 318-cubic-inch V8 was standard, but buyers seeking maximum brawn could upgrade to a 426-cubic-inch, 425-hp Hemi V8. The company also introduced a Mustang-fighting pony car, called the Challenger, in 1970.
As with other American auto manufacturers, Dodge's fortunes started to slip in the '70s due to changing tastes and increased competition. The company was saved from extinction in the early '80s thanks to government loans and the sales success of its Omni and Aries economy cars (the former an attempted copy of the VW Rabbit). But 1984 was when Dodge made its mark in the history books with the introduction of the wildly popular Caravan. Ideal for families and able to seat up to seven, the space-efficient Caravan started a whole new vehicle segment -- the minivan.
The early '90s saw the company wow the public with the V10-powered Viper roadster and an all-new Ram pickup that set a new standard for big-rig-like styling. A few years later, Dodge came to be part of DaimlerChrysler, a result of the merger of the German company Daimler (owner of Mercedes-Benz) and Chrysler.
The merger never really worked, however, and Daimler sold Chrysler and Dodge to a private equity firm in 2007. Soon after, America's economy slid into recession. Due to poor sales and debt, Chrysler had to declare bankruptcy. The federal government intervened and eventually Dodge came under control of Fiat, a European automaker known for its small cars, an area where Dodge's entries had been roundly criticized for mediocre build quality and unrefined performance.
More recent years have seen Dodge concentrate on the more practical vehicles in its lineup, making notable improvements to the performance and overall quality of its midsize Avenger sedan and Journey SUV entries. Dodge also spun off its truck line, making it a separate Ram brand. But make no mistake; Dodge is still considered Chrysler's performance division thanks to cars like the Challenger and Charger. Time will tell how successful Dodge's latest makeover is.