Chrysler considers selling Viper business unit By BRAD WERNLE, AUTOMOTIVE NEWS Chrysler LLC has put its hand-built Dodge Viper sports car business on the block. The automaker said Wednesday that it was undertaking a "strategic review" of the Viper business and stressed in a statement that it has not decided whether to sell the Viper. Chrysler has retained Lazard Ltd., a New York financial advisory firm, to assist in the strategic review. Chrysler has set no timetable. "We have been approached by third parties who are interested in exploring future possibilities for Viper," Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli said in a release. Todd Goyer, a Chrysler spokesman, declined to identify any potential buyers. Dodge introduced the Viper at the 1989 Detroit auto show and started building it in 1992. Chrysler has made about 25,000 Vipers since. Sales of the sports car peaked in 2003 at 2,103. 2009 production started The 600-hp supercar is made at the Conner Avenue plant in Detroit, which employs 110 workers. The plant has just begun production of 2009 models. Goyer said the Viper business would continue as usual for dealers. "Our intent would be to offer strong operational and financial support during any potential transaction in order to ensure a future for the Viper business and perpetuate the legacy of this great vehicle," Nardelli said. With Cerberus Capital Management as its majority owner, Chrysler has been selling a number of assets. The automaker has sold its Tritec Motors engine plant in Brazil to Fiat Powertrain Technologies and its Pacifica Advance Design Center in Carlsbad, Calif., to Chrysler's former owner, Daimler AG. Chrysler also has put two Detroit area office complexes on the market. Dave Cole, director of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., said he was not surprised to hear Chrysler had put the Viper business on the block. 'Retreating to the core' "It's not core, and I think everybody is retreating to the core business right now," Cole said. "There is a very high level of urgency to deal with this stuff." Goyer said Chrysler's core concerns include "fuel efficiency, quality, small cars, minivans, trucks, crossovers and sedans." Cole said the Viper business distracts resources from other, more essential jobs. Chrysler's Viper decision is similar to Ford's decision to sell Jaguar and Land Rover and General Motors' to put Hummer on the block. "The Viper is very low-volume compared to the Corvette," Cole said. "It is a muscle car without much finesse. It's an engine with wheels. It's just not a sophisticated execution." And Dodge dealers now have the Challenger muscle car, with a price less than half the Viper's $90,000-plus sticker. Cole said the Viper could be attractive to an investor who wants some muscle-car cachet: "A lot of people can afford it--Chinese companies, Indian companies, Middle Eastern companies--somebody who has a lot of money that wants to create a halo for themselves. It's not a billion-dollar-type of asset." Why the hell would they just "sell" Viper, instead of just killing it? Oh yeah, I forget... MONEY. Looks like the beginning of the end for Chrysler.