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Chrysler gearing up for Dodge Viper finale

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Chrysler gearing up for Dodge Viper finale

Alisa Priddle / The Detroit News

Chrysler Group LLC will start production of the final run of 500 Dodge Vipers on March 29 and wind up the year with the launch of the tiny Fiat 500, leaked production schedule dates show.

Chrysler officials would not verify the dates that appeared on a third-party Web site devoted to Chrysler matters. But company and union officials confirmed some of the dates including the launch of the iconic sports car, the all-new Jeep Cherokee and a family of rear-drive sedans.

Importantly, the schedule shows the automaker on track, if not ahead, of promises to get some new or improved cars and trucks to market this calendar year. In the competitive automotive market, the dearth of new products under Chrysler's previous owners has put the Auburn Hills company at a disadvantage. Its share of the market dropped to 11 percent at the end of 2009, with sales having fallen by 36 percent. In February, however, Chrysler's share was up to 12.2 percent, and sales were up 0.5 percent.

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Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne, from partner Fiat SpA, has promised 75 percent of the lineup will be updated by the end of this year, but the company continues to face criticism because most of the launches are in the second half of the year, and many vehicles won't be upgraded until the fourth quarter.

"It is good that Chrysler appears to be following through and that new products are not far off," said product analyst Stephanie Brinley of AutoPacific in Troy. Chrysler is "doing the best they can reorganizing packages and trim levels of existing products, but they're starved for product."

First up is the Viper at the end of this month, but production will be short-lived: Once the 500 models are done -- July at the latest -- the Conner Avenue plant in Detroit will be closed while the automaker decides if the business case is there to revive the car in 2012.

Ralph Gilles, Chrysler's design chief and head of the Dodge Car brand, said in Chicago last month that work continues on what a next-generation Viper would look like if approval is given to bring it back into the portfolio.

Meanwhile, Chrysler is preparing to make its final batch of 2010 Vipers. They will include some special editions and about 50 SRT 10 ACRs, the model that debuted last year at the Los Angeles Auto Show and which Chrysler says will be offered with more than 7,000 color and trim combinations when you factor in options in the interior, the paint colors, six stripe options and four wheel choices.

The all-new Grand Cherokee will be next up. Its launch is May 10, according to the report and confirmed by people familiar with the schedule, while its Dodge counterpart, designed to replace the Durango in the lineup, may not go into production until Nov. 8. A final name for the Dodge has not been decided upon. Magnum was under consideration, but officials have said it is no longer in the running and Durango remains a possibility.

Other vehicles include the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger. Chrysler used a week of downtime at the Brampton, Ontario, assembly plant last week to continue retooling in preparation for the launch of new versions of the 300 and Charger on Nov. 30, said Leon Rideout, president of Canadian Auto Workers Local 1285.

The new cars retain much of the same chassis as the outgoing models, but the look has been totally redone inside and out.

The third vehicle made in Brampton, the Dodge Challenger, is not receiving the same overhaul, Rideout said. A decision has not been made on whether there will be a replacement for the Challenger when its lifecycle ends in 2014, Chrysler officials said during presentations in November on the company's five-year plan.

For commercial buyers, the Web site said the new Ram Chassis Cabs are slated to start production next month at the Saltillo, Mexico, plant. Chrysler officials will say only that they will be on sale by fall.

November is when redesigned minivans go on sale that further differentiate the Chrysler and Dodge models and upgrade the interiors. That date coincides with what company and union officials have said.

And the year will cap off with assembly of the first Fiat product for the United States, the Fiat 500, which will be built in Chrysler's Toluca, Mexico, plant. The first cars could go into production Dec. 13.

Getting positive product news out to consumers is important because post-bankruptcy Chrysler is not perceived to be recovering as quickly as General Motors Co., Brinley said.

A just-completed AutoPacific Manufacturer Image Tracking Survey compared consumer responses from March 2007 -- before the two companies filed for Chapter 11 protection in 2009 -- and again in February 2010.

The survey found 37 percent of respondents thought Chrysler was worse off today than a year ago. That is worse than the 32 percent who felt that way in 2007.

"So they are seeing a slide in the wrong direction," Brinley said of the results. "Chrysler needs new products to talk about to generate a good vibe."

From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20100307/AUTO01/3070315/1148/auto01/Chrysler-gearing-up-for-Dodge-Viper-finale#ixzz0harK77Zo

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They should stick with the Durango name. Hopefully they don't do something dumb like call it 'Dynamite' to go with the Nitro.

'Voyage' would be a good name to fit with the Journey. Or an old Dodge truck name, 'Adventurer'.

Looking forward to seeing the new GC, Charger and 300..

Edited by Cubical-aka-Moltar
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I agree stick with Durango...Voyage sounds silly and reminds me of the Plymouth minivan, adventurer sounds meh.

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I agree stick with Durango...Voyage sounds silly and reminds me of the Plymouth minivan, adventurer sounds meh.

same here...I don't think there is anything wrong with Durango, and Voyager was the first thing that came to mind when I read that...

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