Commentary

The Dodge Challenger has stirred up more excitement around me than any other car in years.

Strangers came up to touch it. They didn’t ask whether Chrysler was going to survive, they just loved the car.

This was an arrest-me red model, with hood scoops and wide black stripes down the center with a $28,980 sticker.

I was driving it for a weekend in New York. Manhattan could not get enough of the car. Men stopped to talk. Women stared, children gawked. It was the same out in the country.

And this was the V-6 engine version, too, not the Hemi V-8.

Teen-aged girls ran up, then, alas, looked disappointed when a geezer (me) stepped out.

In the greatest tribute, the guys at the parking garage on 101st St. didn’t put it on the elevator to park upstairs. They put it next to the main floor entrance in a place of honor. They have never done that for any of the other cars I have tested, and I drive them all.

Chrysler doesn’t sell many Challengers. April was a great month thanks to a big promotion. It delivered 3,713 units, a 41.8% jump compared with like-2009.

But it sold just 7,039 during the first quarter, down 16% from last year. Ford sold 15,691Mustangs during the same period, up 63%. The new Camaro sold 20,757 copies.

My experiences with the Challenger show Chrysler still can build exciting vehicles. It just has a tough time selling them. And it has been making sales and marketing blunders for quite a while.

Now we’re waiting to see if Chrysler can get the new Jeep Grand Cherokee out on time.

The little Fiat 500 is due from Mexico by year-end. On the bright side, the 500 should get plenty of publicity even if sales are modest.

Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne, who also runs Chrysler, has plans for 40 or more new or redesigned models over the next few years.

But can Chrysler even survive until the new models come? Marchionne is incessantly upbeat. And it is true its huge debt is gone and labor costs have been chopped.

Even so, the auto maker still has to sell a lot of cars and trucks to stay afloat, and it’s unclear if American consumers will accept the new models when they do come.

Instead, I wish we saw more evidence Chrysler is planning to take back control of the minivan market. And I wish the auto maker was doing a better job of marketing its Dodge Ram pickup.

The Ram is a really good truck, but it is struggling, while sales of the Ford F-Series and Chevy Silverado are gaining momentum.

The outlook still is cloudy for Chrysler. And Fiat’s plan for the future is bold to the point of sounding unbelievable.

But one thing I’ve learned about Chrysler over the years is that you can’t bury it too soon, because it has come back from the dead too many times.

Jerry Flint is a columnist for, and former senior editor of, Forbes magazine.