The Viper is back, going into production in late 2012—about a year from now—but it won’t be the Dodge Viper anymore. They’re going to call it the SRT Viper, and they’re going to build it in the same facility, the Conner Avenue Assembly Plant (oddly enough on Conner Street), that Dodge built the Viper until production ended in July 2010.
The new SRT Viper “will make its return to the product lineup in late 2012 as a 2013 model,” according to Ralph Gilles, president and CEO of SRT Brand and Motorsports. SRT was split off from Dodge as a part of the reorganization of Chrysler Group LLC. Gilles, ultimate car guy and snake handler in his own right, had been president of Dodge but moved over to SRT when the new brand was formed to handle Chrysler Group’s high-performance products and projects.
The Viper returns to the Conner Avenue plant, where it had been made since October of 1995 until going out of production. The sports car was originally hand built on an assembly line in a figurative corner of the New Mack Assembly Plant—about one-sixth of the floor space—in May, 1992. At that time, the Mack Avenue plant was a manufacturing “brown site” that had been in the process of being reclaimed.
Over a fifteen year period, Dodge built a total of 22,070 Vipers at the Conner Avenue facility (along with the entire run of Plymouth Prowlers) at a rate of fifteen per day.
The Conner Avenue Assembly Plant almost left Chrysler’s ownership in mid-2009. The financially troubled company offered not only the factory but the entire Viper franchise, lock, stock and towel dispenser, for a measily $10 million dollars, or about the price of a mansion in the Hamptons. Chrysler was reportedly mulling an offer of $5.5 million from a Devon Motorworks, a boutique manufacturer that had designs on building sports cars on Viper underpinnings. How serious Chrysler’s consideration is moot as the sale didn’t go through.
The startup of the Conner facility will involve implementing “world class manufacturing”, a current manufacturing management fad for reducing waste and improving quality and productivity.
Restarting Viper manufacture at Conner will make Chrysler Group the only manufacturer left with two assembly plants within Detroit’s boundaries and will mean 150 jobs returning to the city.
To enthusiasts, however, it means the return of the Dodge Viper, even as the SRT Viper, and that’s a good start. Or restart.