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Chrysler to Temporarily Shut Down SRT Viper Plant

March 20, 2014

Slow sales of the SRT Viper sport coupe has prompted Chrysler Group LLC to idle production and temporarily shut down its assembly plant in Detroit.

“Chrysler Group confirms that its Conner Avenue Assembly Plant will be down, beginning the week of April 14. Production will resume the week of June 23,” Chrysler said in a written statement. In an email to The Detroit News, Chrysler spokeswoman Jodi Tinson said that the suspended production will result in the laying off of 91 hourly employees, all of which are represented by the United Automobile Workers (UAW).

According to Automotive News, U.S. dealers only sold 91 units of the 640-hp two-seat super-car through January and February. On March 1, they had 756 unsold units, resulting in a 412-day supply. Because the specialized tires of Vipers do not hold well in frigid weather, the vehicle typically does not sell well during the winter season.

The automaker had this to say about their sports coupe: “The SRT Viper is a hand-crafted American exotic car that is designed for a specific consumer that values performance, style and exclusivity. It has never been intended to be a mass-production vehicle as less than 29,000 vehicles have been produced in the past 20 years.”

“The ability to increase and decrease production at the Conner Avenue Assembly Plant allows the company to continue to meet our customers’ desire to keep these special cars exclusive,” it continued. “Customer and dealer demand for the SRT Viper continues at expected levels. We will be able to take advantage of this transition to manage dealer inventories as we prepare for an exciting 2015 model year.”

The temporary closure of the Viper plant comes after the vehicle’s production was slowed in October last year. The Conner Avenue plant scaled back production from nine Vipers per day to just six per day. Due to reduced production, some Conner Avenue employees were reassigned to other plants. Chrysler reportedly wanted to cap annual SRT Viper sales to 2000, but the automaker has yet to sell that many units per year.

Slowed production of the SRT Viper in 2013 was believed to be the result of slow sales and growing dealer inventories. Automotive News data suggests that demand for the rear-drive coupe was indeed limited—as of September 1st, there were 500 SRT Vipers on dealer lots across the country. That time, only 426 units of the car has been sold.

MotorTrend noted two things that contribute to the slow sales of the viper. The first is its hefty price: with a starting price of more than $100,000, the Viper is the most expensive vehicle in Chrysler’s lineup. It is also pricier compared to rivals such as the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, which costs about half of the Viper’s asking price.

The second are the dealers themselves. Late last year, there were only 443 dealers certified to sell Vipers. A dealer must pay a $25,000 fee and undergo special training to sell the car. Considering the car’s huge price tag, dealers are also compelled to keep the vehicles locked in the showrooms.

Ralph Gilles, head of the SRT brand, believed that consumers were ‘intimidated’ by the Viper. To familiarize people with the super-car, he launched a marketing campaign wherein factory teams head on over to dealers for a test-drive tour.

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