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Friday, September 12, 2008

UPDATE on Chrysler's Sale of Viper

Chrysler has no timetable to sell its Viper operations, but the sports-car assets have attracted interest from third parties in North America as well as abroad, says Jim Press, Chrysler vice chairman and president.

It was because of outside interest that the automaker announced recently that Chrysler parent Cerberus had put the Viper brand under “strategic review” for standalone sale. In hindsight, the move should not be seen as a surprise, given that Cerberus is a hedge company more interested in making money than cars.

That’s right, snake lovers, if you come up with enough cash—piles of it—you could have all the tire-smokin’, gas-suckin’, hooligan-style fun you could dream of with your very own Viper-making operation.

Among the domestic names tossed around as potential suitors are Roush and Saleen, the latter of which is already involved in Viper assembly, as it paints the cars. And no one would be surprised to see Middle Eastern or Indian interest in the American-as-apple-pie sports car. Press would not say how many parties were in the hunt, noting it has hired financial advisor Lazard Limited to handle logistics. Press says he sees no need to retain any interest in the Viper in the event of a sale.

Press tells reporters in Detroit that while the Viper name and cars are tremendous and bestow performance cred on the Dodge brand, the reality is the automaker must prioritize resource spending and balance such diverse needs as making a profit on 300,000 minivan sales—or 100 hand-built Vipers. The comment confirms the pervasive backdrop of fear that Chrysler might otherwise drop the Viper altogether if it believes the car is taking too much attention and resources away from core products. It is built at the Conner Avenue assembly plant in Detroit that is scheduled to close by the end of 2011.

Viper is a big part of Chrysler’s heritage, dating back to the first concept unveiled in 1989. The public loved it, and it was fast-tracked for production as a 1992 model and has played the role of halo vehicle ever since.