Stars and cars at the 'Furious 7' premiere

'Furious 7,' the latest film in the ongoing series, opens Friday

Hot stars and hot cars were on display Wednesday night at the TCL Chinese Theatre premiere of "Furious 7," the latest installment in Hollywood's longest extended chase scene.

The line of luminaries, far outnumbered by the masses of fans who lined Hollywood Boulevard in front of the theater, was led by the movie's top-billed actors.

Among those stopping on the red carpet to pose with the "Furious 7" automobiles were Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Jason Statham, Elsa Pataky, Tony Jaa, Tyrese Gibson, Luke Evans and Ludacris.

The cars from the film franchise included a black 1970 Dodge Charger that appeared in the first installment.

Also on hand, dodging the cameras and trying to do the executive meet-and-greet, was Dodge President and CEO Tim Kuniskis.

Trim in a gray suit and black shirt, Kuniskis surveyed the growing throngs of "Furious" fans.

"This franchise has been good for Dodge, and Dodge has been good for the franchise," he said.

The company's legacy has been a feature of the series, with increasing amounts of automotive product placement in each successive episode.

Does that help Dodge sales?

"Put it this way," Kuniskis said. "Last year, Dodge sold 600,000 cars — about 4% of the total market. That means 96% of people are not buying our cars. These movies put Dodge products in front of a huge world audience."

The "Furious" franchise has sold in excess of $1 billion in movie tickets worldwide since the first movie rolled out in 2001.

And for the past five years, Kuniskis said, sales of Dodge Challengers have increased. During the month of March, he said, the company sold 6,500 of them the best month in the nameplate's history.

As for the high-end Challengers, those in the 707-horsepower Hellcat category, Kuniskis said the company is working fast to solve the high-quality problem of too many customers and too few cars.

As reported here earlier, the company had to ask its dealerships to stop taking orders for the $60,000-plus street-legal race cars because they couldn't make them fast enough.

Kuniskis said the company expected to sell a couple of thousand of the Challenger and Charger Hellcats. Instead, they had standing orders for 9,000 when they asked their dealerships to stop taking them.

Kuniskis said he understands customers are frustrated. "I know," he said, "Because I get emails from them asking, 'Where's my car?'"

But he said those customers will all get what they want.

"We're catching up, and we will start taking new orders," he said. "We'll make them all happy."

By then the red carpet action was getting hot. Richard Rawlings of the TV car show "Fast N' Loud" wanted his picture taken with Kuniskis in front of one of the cinematic Chargers. The cameraman said, "Over here, Richard!" and Kuniskis smiled.

Twitter: @misterfleming


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