“I think it represents the soul of the company,” said Chrysler executive Ralph Gilles Wednesday in introducing a resurgent Chrysler’s newest vehicle at the New York Auto Show.
He was not referring to the 40 MPG Fiat 500, but the fire-breathing, 640-hp, 8.4-liter SRT Viper.
Gilles’ nod to the iconic muscle-car is a slap in the face of President Barack Obama, who recruited Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne to come to Detroit as a missionary teaching the savages how to make proper, fuel-sipping Euro-econoboxes. Indeed, one of the key benchmarks that Marchionne had to meet to assume ownership of the Rochester Hills-based automaker was to bring a 40 MPG car stateside.
Yet, instead of converting America to the green religion, Marchionne has gone native. Auto website Jalopnik calls the Viper “straight up car porn.” The Snake has tempted Marchionne and he has eaten the apple whole. His conversion is the untold story of Chrysler’s remarkable turnaround from bankruptcy just three years ago.
Marchionne has not only resurrected the gas-guzzling Viper (which was doomed in 2008), he has doubled down on making SUVs, a model scorned by Obama and his environmental base. The result is Chrysler returning to profitability — not by selling tin cans (the 500, with profit margins of less than $1,000 a copy, disappointed in its first-year sales) — but tens of thousands of Jeep Grand Cherokees with profit margins in the neighborhood of $3,000-5,000 per vehicle. That light-truck demand now employs three full shifts at Chrysler’s Jefferson North plant in Detroit. Those are blue-collar jobs. UAW jobs.
Save the planet? Marchionne’s bumpersticker should read: “SUV the planet.”
In short, the Grand Cherokee and Viper prove that an Italian auto executive is more in touch with the American people than their own president. What Marchionne & Co. realized is that SUVs and muscle cars are what Americans do best. And they are exporting them to the world. The Viper will go on the international sports car racing circuit against the best from Ferrari and Porsche. And Jefferson North will soon be building Maserati SUVs — yes, Maserati trucks — on a modified version of the Jeep platform.
“The car is a rock star all by itself,” thrilled Giles to the mob of reporters that came to the Viper’s unveiling Wednesday. The car’s debut has created more excitement than any other model this year. Try that with a 40 mpg compact. While Washington Democrats dream of marching American onto trains or forcing them into look-alike, soap cake-shaped compacts with their 56 MPG mandates, the Viper is an affirmation that cars are an expression of individual freedom. And Americans want a diversity of options to express that individualism — whether in muscle cars, SUVs, or the occasional Fiat 500.
Fuel economy? Fuhgeddaboutit. This car doesn’t save the planet, it eats its resources with a shovel. The talk at the news conference was about the Snake’s 640 horsepower, 600 pounds of torque, and 206 miles per hour — 5 mph faster than the previous version.
“It makes more torque off idle than most cars make at full power,” Gilles panted. “Here it is duking it out with some of the best brands in the world. There’s a little bit of this Rocky Balboa story in there that people just love.”
And the Obama Left just hates.