2013 Viper Typifies What’s Wrong with American Carmakers

There’s a piece in CNNMoney about how Chrysler was going to kill the Viper, but Ralph Gilles, Chrysler’s SRT boss, impressed Sergio Marchionne with a business case for it.

Exactly how the 2013 Viper is supposed to make money hasn’t been revealed. But in the summer of 2010, the car was approved for production. For a rough beast that some had called the “Dodge Corvette,” the new Viper seems a solid improvement.

But with all its new-found power (640 hp V10, 600 lb-ft of torque, no turbo, manual only) and refinements, the Viper still looks like it’s going to break in the middle. From the firewall forward, it’s a different car, and the whole thing still has the look of a kit car. There are a bunch of pix here from the New York Auto Show.

In a way, by adding stability and traction control plus more creature comforts, Chrysler made it less different from the competition, which, for many Viper fans, means less cool.

The company has separated its performance cars (now under the “Street and Racing Technology,” or SRT, banner) into a unique brand, as it did with trucks (now under Ram). Dodge focuses on cars like the new Dart, with prices just announced beginning at $15,995, plus destination fee.

So Viper is supposed to have its own brand identity now, but Chrysler will be working against whatever tradition the car has inspired: It’s still called Viper and still looks like a Viper. Another nameplate is just a distraction, and it’s not a hair-shirt car anymore.

American carmakers kill off brands and rejig their divisions, but people have learned to identify with the cars, not the brands—especially those few who are still in the market for $100K, 640 hp vehicles that have no real purpose other than doing doughnuts and showing off.

Compare the way a company like Porsche has done its branding over the years: New models are added, but they are identifiably Porsche variants. Old models, like the 911, undergo constant development and refinement to make them better. The brand builds depth.

The notion that the new Viper can be a halo car for Chrysler products is just silly. It has very little relation to any of them. And so the American branding mish-mash continues. It is hard to see how Chrysler will make any money on this car.

If you have been a Viper fan, tell us whether you like the new 2013 version.


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  1. It’s a grotesque car, like one of those female bodybuilders. For some reason, it seems like a perfect pinnacle for a company that produces pretty much nothing but lumpy, unattractive gas hogs. It’s perfect, though, for those overfed midwestern lawyers who can’t fit in a lambo.

  2. Less pipe worry now Jim. Notice that the leg burners we were used to having have been moved to just in front of the rear tires. I am a huge Viper fan from the days that my old millionaire development buddy would bring them to my house to drive Aaaghhh those were the days we all remember in our very early adulthood. The speed, acceleration, and torque were unbelievable as they still are today with emission standards et al. I was enamored with all that but the real attraction to the Viper, for me, is the LOOK. It says and is testosterone personified. It would get you the chicks, not that you could do anything in it, but at least it got you to first base.

    The ’13, to me, is by far the best iteration to date. My buddy stopped by last week with his latest ‘Vette, all black and all chrome and it didn’t do much for me. I will report back on the Viper when my buddy tires of the ‘Vette and brings the new Viper here for me to test drive. He currently has 16 cars in his stable just here and several others in Florida and New Jersey. He also RACES them. Not bad for a 70 year old.

  3. Looks like drivers and passengers exiting the car will still get that famous Viper Kiss on their calves… love side exhaust, but man, those pipes get hot!

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