Automobiles

The Dodge Viper might head to sports-car heaven in 2017

FCA's pending union contract points to a grim, short future for the brand's premier sports car.

One of Dodge's more recent Viper models featured over 25 million potential color combinations. Sarah Tew/CNET

Automotive News reports that the Dodge Viper will not survive past 2017. That revelation is based on text appearing in a new contract between Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) and the United Auto Workers (UAW) union. The plan involves ending production at FCA's Conner Avenue Assembly Plant in Detroit, and it's hard to imagine a business plan where the Viper makes sense.

Current-generation Viper sales have never really taken off, and with limited technology to prepare the brand for a future of ever-tightening emissions and fuel-economy regulations, money needs to be spent in a smarter way. Dodge pushed just 503 Vipers out of showrooms this year, and in all of 2014, only 760 units were sold. The automaker has assembled the Viper at Conner Avenue since 1995, four years after the sports car began production.

Since its inception, the Viper has had a 10-cylinder engine under its hood. Power started out at an insane-for-the-time 400 horsepower and has since risen to an eye-popping 640. Despite all that power, the Viper has actually become much more user-friendly over the years, adding creature comforts like air conditioning, navigation and an exhaust that won't burn your leg upon egress. Both track- and street-oriented variants have been offered over the car's history, which spans three generations. The Viper's best sales came in 2003, when the brand sold 2,103 units.

The $5.3 billion UAW contract (converted, £3.43B or AU$7.29B) mentions no replacement for the Conner Avenue assembly line, which would seem to put the future of approximately 80 workers in jeopardy. The contract remains unapproved -- it will be put to a vote next week. The Viper could be moved, but the financials required for that would make it a very serious uphill battle.

The UAW contract also mentions upgrading FCA's eight-speed transmission for additional fuel efficiency. The automatic gearbox is built by drivetrain giant ZF but licensed to FCA, where it's used in nearly every one of the company's rear-wheel-drive vehicles. However, that update won't take place at Conner Avenue -- FCA's transmission facility is in Kokomo, Indiana.