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10,000th Prowler Rolls Off the Line

June 27, 2001

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DETROIT (AP) _ Five years after the first Prowler was produced, Chrysler workers watched as the 10,000th one rolled off assembly lines. The car, a lean, mean hot rod reminiscent of American muscle cars, has become a recognized symbol of Detroit’s design style.

Surrounded by the workers who built it by hand, the Prowler slowly rolled off the line at the Conner Avenue Assembly Plant Tuesday.

The group of about 20 workers cheered and applauded as one of their colleagues drove the bright orange car past them, honking the hot rod’s horn and revving its engine.

Henry Pettway, the man co-workers nicknamed Mr. Prowler because he has worked at the plant since the first Prowler went into production in 1996, said the secret to the retro-looking rod’s success is simple.

``Old style and new technology. The two of them work together real well,″ he said as he beamed at the milestone car.

``We really handle these cars with kid gloves,″ said co-worker Philip Rolack. ``How do I put it into words? We take personal care of these cars.″

Unlike many other production vehicles, the Prowler isn’t assembled on a continuously moving line. Each one is built by hand by a group of hand-picked workers who produce just 14 a day.

``You have to be interviewed to be accepted,″ said United Auto Workers Local 212 financial secretary James Hardy. ``It’s the best of the best.″

The Prowler was introduced as a concept vehicle in 1993 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The car proved to be a crowd magnet, which persuaded Chrysler to build a production version for the 1997 model year.

``The thought behind the car was we’re just going to build a car that’s in a unique position in the market that really played off on the emotional attractiveness and the passion some people have for cars,″ said Steve Bartoli, director of Chrysler brand marketing.

The company purposely built the Prowler in low volumes to maintain quality and the car’s mystique.

It didn’t take long for enthusiast clubs to spring up, like the 906-member Plymouth-Chrysler Prowler Club.

Member Rick Gallaher, 56, of Minneapolis, says he just had to have one.

``It’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a car,″ said Gallaher, who owns a black Prowler. ``It’s three cars in one: a sports car, a luxury car, a street car.″

The two-seater is pricey, starting at about $45,400.

``It’s very very cool looking, but from drivability standpoint, it’s not that great for the price point,″ said Wes Brown of auto consulting firm Nextrend.

There also is a real concern that because of the Prowler’s low volume, it could be on the chopping block as parent company DaimerChrysler AG seeks to cut costs.

``I can’t imagine it’s cost effective to build,″ Brown said. ``It doesn’t seem to make business sense right now and given the current situation, Chrysler management looks at what makes business sense.″

Brown points out that the Prowler is built on the existing LH passenger car platform, using many of the same parts. The company will be phasing out that platform by 2004, leaving the company with a decision to re-engineer the Prowler to be compatible with the new platform, take the expensive step of continuing to produce it in on the old platform, or end production.

Bartoli says since the Prowler’s look is so distinctive there are no plans to alter its design, but ``there are other tricks you can play with the car.″ He wouldn’t elaborate.

Whatever the cost, Bartoli believes ``niche″ cars like the Prowler and the Dodge Viper, which is produced at the same plant, pay for themselves by creating a buzz in the marketplace about Chrysler brand products.

The Prowler’s retro style, he says, also helped prime the public for the equally retro PT Cruiser which is one of the best selling vehicles in the nation.

``To me retro is really rooted in optimism, when you think of your youth,″ he says. ``I think there’s an enduring demand for that kind of feeling.″

``Mr. Prowler,″ Henry Pettway certainly hopes so. As he looks at retiring next month after 33 years, Pettway says when his kids ask ``what’s history?″ he can point to the Prowler and say, ``that’s history, and I helped build it.″


On the Net:

DaimlerChrysler, http://www.daimlerchrysler.com

Prowler, http://www.chrysler.com/prowler

Chrysler-Plymouth-Prowler Club, http://www.prowlerclub.com

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