Are Reports of the Viper's Demise Premature?
In the past few days there has been a flurry of posts about Fiat Chrysler Automobiles ending production of the Dodge Viper in 2017 and closing the Conner Avenue Assembly facility where the v-10 powered sportscar is hand-built.
When I see a news story, I’ll try to seek out the original reporting and if possible, the original source material. Now that I’ve seen that source material, and asked Conner’s plant manager about the matter, I’m not convinced that the Viper’s demise is a certainty. Viper fans shouldn’t go hanging snakeskin* crepe just yet.
In the case of that supposed demise, all the news articles that I could find on the topic — whether from blogs or traditional automotive publications — were based on a rather sketchy report on Allpar.com, which was based on the proposed labor agreement FCA has presented to the United Auto Workers, in the section under product allocation and sourcing.
Allpar’s statement was pretty firm:
The Dodge Viper will be leaving in calendar-year 2017, according to the proposed FCA-UAW contract.
The contract wording, though, was not quoted. Now that I’ve read the proposal, I’m not sure if not quoting it wasn’t deliberate, to make the Viper’s death seem like more of a sure thing. It sure got some attention and links to Allpar.
When FCA introduced the latest iteration of the Viper ACR earlier this year in a media event at the Conner plant, I just happened to be in the group that was given the factory tour by plant manager Doug Gouin. It also happened that two decades ago my now-adult son asked for and got his fifth grade class a VIP tour of the Viper factory with a letter to then-Chrysler president Bob Lutz. When I told him the story, Gouin gave me his business card to arrange a return visit for my son for a future story here at TTAC.
Figuring that the plant manager would know the real skinny on its future, I reached out to Gouin, asking if he could comment on the Allpar report. He couldn’t, as FCA only authorizes a small number of executives to speak publicly for the company.
He sent me a gracious, but unrelated email, and forwarded my request about the Viper and plant’s future to one of their communications spokeswomen. She told me that while the contract ratification is underway, FCA will not offer any comment on anything in the proposed agreement, including manufacturing plans. She did, however, help me navigate the UAW’s website to find what it actually says about the Conner Ave plant and the Viper. She said nothing a about the Viper’s future either way.
What it does say in the proposed labor contract doesn’t necessarily bode well for the car or the factory, but what it doesn’t say is that there will be no Viper after 2017 or that Conner Assembly will definitely close. Under the heading of “Product Allocation and Work Retention” for that facility it says: “Current product build out in 2017,” and, “No future product has identified beyond the product life cycle.”
At face value, the contract is simply giving no assurances to the UAW that Conner Avenue Assembly will have work to do beyond 2017. That’s it.
Sure, it doesn’t look optimistic, but it’s also not a formal obituary for the Viper. While “current product” and “product life cycle” could mean the entire Viper program, it could just as likely mean the current Viper generation, which by 2017 will probably need a replacement to stay current in the world of 600+ horsepower sports cars. A lot can happen in the automotive world in two years.
The Viper could die, but then it also could get a last minute reprieve from the governor Sergio. If I was a Viper fan of means, I’d go ahead and take Jack Baruth’s advice and buy a new Viper while I still could, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if someday at a club meet a 2018 Viper sits next to my hypothetical 2016 model.
*I wanted to use “black mamba crepe” but apparently, mambas are not pit vipers.
Note: If any of our readers know how FCA defines “current product” and “product life cycle” and whether those terms apply to a general nameplate or a specific generation model, please drop us a note in the comments below.
Photo by the author.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, the original 3D car site.
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