Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Three Things That Killed the Dodge Viper

Alexander Carabitses

Just recently, Dodge launched five special edition variants of the Viper, which itself will be going out of production in about a year.  These special editions sold out almost instantly, and now Dodge is planning on producing more to meet demand.  The lack of planning for the production of these final edition Vipers is pretty much the logical conclusion for the lifecycle of the third generation Viper.  Four years ago, the hype for this vehicle was through the roof.  The car had made a triumphant return after the previous generation car got the axe in mid-2010; this time, the car featured something that all previous generations lacked: refinement.  It was a bit kinder and gentler, yet it didn't lose its character, and it looked good both inside and out.  Chief of the Viper program, Ralph Giles, introduced the car at the 2012 New York International Auto Show, and proudly stated that the car's seats came from the same supplier that makes seats for Ferrari and Maserati; he also stated that the car's power to weight ratio was only beaten by the Ferrari F12 Berlinetta and the Bugatti Veyron.  Here we are now, four years later, and the car only has a year to live, so what the hell went wrong?

When it initially launched in the early 1990s, the Dodge Viper was created to primarily regain consumer interest in the Dodge brand and establish the fact that Chrysler did indeed know how to make a car that people could aspire to own.  It also served as an image booster for the Chrysler Corporation, a company that had spent over a decade making the boxy K Cars.  Simply put, it was a marketing car that was also a beast to drive, the right car at the right time.

Meanwhile, the current Viper can only be described as the right car at the wrong time. Chrysler may have been going through somewhat of a slump in the late 1980s, but when the current Dodge Viper was in development, Chrysler Group has just emerged from bankruptcy and was trying to reestablish itself.  Someone within Fiat Chrysler must have thought that it would be a great idea to use the Viper to accomplish the same tasks that the car was used to complete when it first launched in 1992, without comparing the two time periods.  While a low volume sports car may have worked in the '90s, the idea of creating a low volume car at a time when the company needed nothing more than high volume, strong selling products simply baffles me.  Note that about one month prior to the Viper's launch, FCA CEO, Sergio Marchionne, was interviewed by 60 Minutes and said that he could only afford to have one of the company's new products be a failure.  Unfortunately the Dodge Dart, the Viper, and the Chrysler 200 all became sales duds, with the Dart and the 200 being two critically important cars for the company.  I personally don't know if the Viper is profitable, but I can assure you that even if it was designed to be profitable, there is no way that Dodge could make any money off of this car given that it didn't sell well, on top of already being an exclusive car that wouldn't be produced in as many numbers as other Dodge models.

The marketing of the Dodge Viper, or lack thereof, is another reason for the car's failure.  Granted, there was a single commercial for the car, but that was it.  Also, the car initially launched as the SRT Viper, in Fiat Chrysler's effort to split off its high performance sub-brand, into a brand all of its own.  It didn't work.  Product awareness and recognition are very important, and while I'm not sure the name change played an enormous role in slow sales, the lack of advertising sure did.

Finally, we must look at the biggest reason for the failure of the current Viper: its performance.  When Motor Trend compared the car to a C6 Corvette ZR1, the Corvette kicked the Viper's ass, and it didn't help that Top Gear and other media outlets made the car look bad.  As I said before, the car was indeed refined, but it still retained its character, and its character pretty much lead to the car's downfall when it was compared to other sports cars of the time period. Then Dodge launched the Challenger and Charger Hellcat models, whose 707 HP trumped the Viper's 645 HP, and worse, the Hellcat engine couldn't actually fit in the Viper.  With more affordable and equally aspirational performance cars in the Dodge lineup, each with a better chance to succeed in the marketplace, the Viper's time was clearly limited...only two years after debuting to the public.

And now we find ourselves in 2016, and the third generation Viper's life is to soon come to an end.  It had both the looks and the refinement to make it world class, and while I want to say that it had a strong run, I'd be lying if I did.

1 comment:

  1. Great perspective and analysis on this once great car!