Thursday, May 8, 2008

Chrysler cranks out first Challenger pony cars

Think the classic American muscle car is dead in an era of $4-per-gallon gasoline?

Not so fast. Chrysler LLC marked the production launch Thursday of its latest retro ride, a remake of the Dodge Challenger coupe. And it says the entire run of the 2008 models, an estimated 7,000 high-powered SRT8 versions cars that crank out 425 horses, are already sold out.

How many more Challengers it will sell come this fall when it starts rolling out more fuel-efficient variants is anyone’s guess. The company declined to give any sales or production projections. “It’s the ultimate halo vehicle,” said Reid Bigland, Chrysler Canada’s president. "It's going to sell like crazy and it's going to bring people into dealerships."

Cars like the Challenger and General Motors Corp.’s upcoming Camaro are taking American automakers back to their roots, Mr. Bigland said. "We’re not just building typical four-door appliances for people to drive."

The Challenger is made at the company’s Brampton plant just north-west of Toronto. Buzz Hargrove, president of the Canadian Auto Workers union, said Wednesday he is worried that the assembly plant is pumping out vehicles now that are on the wrong side of gasoline prices. The Chrysler 300 sedan and Dodge Charger coupe are also made there. “The market for larger vehicles continues to drop, especially in the U.S., so obviously we’re very concerned,” Mr. Hargrove said.

Nicolas Van Praet

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