FCA's Detroit Dodge Viper Assembly Plant to Close Indefinitely
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is abandoning Conner Avenue Assembly in Detroit, Michigan. The plant produced Dodge Vipers sporadically for over two decades, but low sales volume eventually led to FCA’s decision to remove the high-performing model from its lineup. In 2016, Dodge only sold 630 Vipers. A final, limited-edition 2017 run sold out in less than a week.
The two-seater doesn’t meet upcoming safety regulations due to its absence of side-curtain airbags. Rather than undergo a costly redesign, FCA chose to let nature take its course and placed the model in hospice care back in 2015. However, the future of the assembly plant and its employees were uncertain at the time.
Conner Assembly houses 87 employees responsible for the Viper and the model’s V10 engine. According to WDIV 4 Detroit, the entirety of the staff will be offered positions at other FCA locations, but the plant will be closed indefinitely. Formerly home to Champion spark plugs, Dodge gained ownership of the factory in 1995 and designated it specifically for Viper production. That lasted until 2010, with the vehicle reentering assembly in 2012.
The plant also built the retro-styled Plymouth Prowler for the duration of its brief, 11,700-unit lifespan.
Viper production is scheduled to end in August (before the safety regulations take hold in September), at which point the plant will be closed. While the snake could return someday, keeping it as a bespoke low-volume model was never in the cards for FCA’s long-term product strategy. Struggling to reach 700 North American deliveries in the very best of years, Viper volume was perpetually eclipsed by its mainstay domestic rival, the Chevrolet Corvette.
General Motors has annually sold 30,000 or more Vettes in the U.S. since 2014.
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The story of the Dodge Viper is a sad one. The original RT/10 roadster was obscene in a refreshing way. The US car market had turned away from fullsize American V8 boats and sports cars to smart European sedans and fuel-efficient Japanese appliances. But out of nowhere, Dodge dropped the Viper RT/10 on the car market. The Viper was an exercise in pretending the era of American big blocks never disappeared; instead, it continued throughout the 80s, until it spawned the 1st generation Viper. The RT/10 had a huge visual impact. It was as wide as a country lane, with side-pipes, massive tires and giant 3-spoke wheels. The engine was 8.0L of V-10 power, and it made the run to 60 in less than 5 seconds (an amazing feat in the early 90s). It was completely bonkers in the right ways. Unfortunately, Chrysler was seemingly embarrassed by the Viper's boorishness. Worse, the attempts to civilize subsequent generations of the car were executing in all the wrong ways. The visual impact of the vehicle was impaired. The side pipes were eliminated and later hidden. The roadster variant was eliminated. NVH (character) was tuned out of the vehicle, and the cartoonish gauges and instrumentation were eventually dropped. Meanwhile, the unsustainable part of the Viper concept, the engine and awful road manners, were retained, despite changes to Chrysler's engine portfolio and new federal regulations requiring ABS and anti-spin control. Rather than make a few difficult changes to the powertrain, chassis, and suspension, which would have spared the vehicle in the long run, Chrysler decided to keep watering down the visual aesthetic while puffing up a powertrain that was being regulated out of existence. Very sad.
Nice to see senseless government meddling cost us another awesome automobile.