Scenes from inside the Conner Avenue Assembly Plant in Detroit on Friday, May 8, 2015, where the 2015 Dodge Viper is hand built. A completed Viper rolls of the line once every 10 days.
Eric Seals/Detroit Free Press
DETROIT — Part of the mystique of the Dodge Viper is how the $87,000 supercar is made.
Each is hand-built by 64 hourly workers the company refers to as craftsman at a 400,000-square-foot plant just south of 8 Mile Road on Detroit’s Northeast side.
Unlike most auto plants that are visible from interstate highways, it’s easy to be a block or two away from the Conner Avenue Assembly Plant, which is tucked behind an extended-stay hospital, without even seeing it.
On Friday, FCA US — the company previously known as Chrysler — allowed the media to tour the plant for the first time in years. Inside, the gleaming polished floors, spacious work stations and wireless tools make for a plant that is vast and open and a lot quieter than typical automotive plants.
Here, each worker performs a range of tasks that the company says are comparable to what 150 different workers do at a normal assembly plant.
That’s possible because the pace is glacial compared with a normal assembly plant and the entire approach to building the vehicle is completely different from the mass-produced process used to make higher-volume cars.
At most modern assembly plants, finished cars pour off the line every minute. But at the Conner Avenue plant, it takes 2.5 hours for cars to cycle through the plant.
Over its 20 year history of making Vipers the the Conner Avenue plant has produced 24,000 of the cars. That is a volume that is tiny by almost any measure. FCA US sold more than 37,000 Ram pickups last month alone.
A 2015 Dodge Viper is worked on the line on Friday, May 8, 2015 at the 400,000 square foot Conner Avenue Assembly Plant in Detroit, Michigan where the Dodge Viper is hand built. The first Dodge Viper was built at this plant twenty years ago. Today a new Viper comes off the assembly line every 10 days. (Photo: Eric Seals)
Tim Kuniskis, CEO of the Dodge brand, said the Viper was never intended to be sold in big volumes even though it has a big impact on the overall image of the company.
“You have a car like this because it has exponential impact on the marketing of the brand and the positioning of the brand,” Kuniskis said. “So even though you are only selling 750 cars, you have 3 million coming to your website, spending 10 minutes on your website where you have your other cars as well.”
But the fate of the plant and the Viper has been in question several times. The car, which debuted in 1992, was discontinued in 2010 in the midst of the Great Recession, causing the plant to be idled.
And last year, the plant was also idled for several months because sales of the Viper were slower than expected.
FCA US sold 760 Dodge SRT Vipers in 2014, up 29% from 591 the prior year. But that’s still only a fraction of the nearly 1,600 per year the company originally hoped to sell.
Bill White of Warren, Ohio, said the Viper, reintroduced in 2013, was priced too high for many enthusiasts.
The automaker dropped the price by $15,000 last fall, launched a new website so customers can custom order and announced Friday it plans to launch a new track-ready trim level called the Viper ACR later this year.
The Dodge Viper SRT coupe starts at $87,095 while the price of the GTS Coupe starts at $110,095.
“It’s going to come back,” said White, a regional director of Viper Club Owners of America. “It’s just a sensation … it’s the brute force, and the design — you don’t see anything else like it on the road.”
Said Kuniskis:”We had to tell our Dodge buyers why the car costs $85,000 and why at $85,000 it is an incredible value.”
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