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Dodge Viper operations draw limited interest

Thu, 28 May 2009

Chrysler LLC's Viper sports car business has drawn only limited interest from buyers, according to court statements filed in connection with the automaker's bankruptcy hearing.

Chrysler recently offered to sell the entire Conner Avenue plant in Detroit, which builds the Dodge Viper sports car, for $10 million, Chrysler Chairman Bob Nardelli said in a statement.

"We received no purchaser interest," he said. "The market for such assets is extremely depressed at this time."

But the court documents show that on May 15, Chrysler received a $5.5 million offer from Devon Motor Works to buy the entire Viper operation, with no assumption of liabilities, and to lease the Conner Avenue plant for one year.

Devon Motors was founded by Scott Devon, CEO of Cole's Quality Foods Inc., of Grand Rapids, Mich., a maker of frozen garlic bread and toast, a receptionist at Cole's said.

Details about the Viper came largely from a declaration by Robert Manzo, executive director of Capstone Advisory Group LLC, a financial advisory firm hired by Chrysler.

Manzo's court statement said he had called Fred Hubacker, a contact for Devon Motors and a former auto parts executive, regarding the next steps, including having Devon show that it can finance the deal.

A decade ago, Hubacker was the CEO of New Venture Gear Inc., a transmission-making venture between Chrysler and General Motors. He is also a former president of Textron Automotive Co.

In an e-mail to Automotive News, Hubacker said, "I can't comment because we have not had any discussions on this matter with the Capstone Advisory Group."

European buyer shows interest

That was not the only nibble at Viper. Also on May 15, Chrysler received an e-mail from Poland's AutoGroup SA expressing interest in the sports car operation. Those talks are continuing, according to court documents.

Terry Pudwell, president and former owner of the low-volume high-performance British sports car firm Stealth Cars Ltd., in Oxford, England, is one of the investors in AutoGroup SA which has expressed interest in buying Viper from Chrysler.

Officials from AutoGroup have not yet visited Detroit, met with Chrysler officials or toured the Viper plant, said Pudwell. "We've made an initial expression of interest," Pudwell told Automotive News.

He said the legal firm representing Chrysler has yet to provide enough detailed information for a deal to progress, but he expects that will happen once Chrysler exits bankruptcy.

Tomasz Tylinski, CEO of Blumerang SA Capital Group, the largest investor in AutoGroup, said the investment group purchased Stealth Cars this year after about a year of talks with Pudwell.

"Our aim is to consolidate some part of the luxury car market," with a special focus on sports cars and special racing cars, he told Automotive News.

AutoGroup is owned about 75 percent by Polish investors. The current capitalization of the company and its partners is close to $100 million, the company says.

Stealth Cars designed and produced the Stealth B6 race car which competes in various GT series races across Europe.

Richard Truett contributed to this report.

By James B. Treece- Automotive News