Alfa-based next-generation Viper with Ferrari power
Sharing is what FCA brands will have to do and this is one of those times when sharing across brands get most interesting.
With the Dodge Viper having been born at the 1989 Detroit Auto Show as a concept car, it seems only natural for Fiat Chrysler CEO, Sergio Marchione, to discuss the future of the supercar at NAIAS - the executive used this year's edition of the event to let us know the company is considering a new Viper.
Marchionne spoke to Automobile Magazine, letting it slip that, while the Viper may rise once again, the new development may or may not arrive in time to assure the continuity of the nameplate.
“The Viper was, has been, a labor of love,” the CEO said. “Given the architectural development within the brand, there is a possibility that a new version of the Viper may surface. Whether it will surface in time [to replace the current model, whose production is expected to end in 2017] is unclear to me.”
Sadly, a contract signed by Fiat Chrysler and the United Auto Workers last fall stipulates ceasing production at FCA's Conner Avenue site in Detroit, where the Viper is handcrafted by a staff of just 80.
If, or when, the Viper gets a fourth generation (aficionados will call it the sixth, since they also count the first and second models' mid-cycle updates), don't expect it to use a dedicated platform. The CEO explained the financial case of a bespoke Viper platform “doesn't add up.”
Instead, the snake will probably be underpinned by the modular Alfa Romeo RWD architecture that will debut with the Giulia this summer. The move is also likely to send the Viper's V10 to motoring heaven. While not directly related to last summer's rumors on the Viper getting a supercharger, the new info should serve as the final nail in the coffin of that unofficial information.
There are two main reasons why you shouldn't expect the 8.4-liter V10 to soldier on and, perhaps surprisingly, none of them has to do with the age of the powerplant.
First of all, when the rumor mill talks about the next generation of Dodge muscle cars (Charger, Challenger and a Dodge Barracuda Convertible) getting Ferrari-sourced twin-turbo V6 engines with over 600 hp, you can't expect the slow-selling Viper to be treated differently.
After all, the three muscle badges mentioned above have a much richer history than the Y-generation Viper. And yes, unofficial sources also talk about the current 6.4-liter Hemi and the Hellcat being scrapped after 2019 due to emission regulations pressure.
Secondly, Dodge engineers want to ensure a future Viper can always adopt any change in the company's muscle department. For example, when Dodge was asked why the selling-like-hotcakes Hellcat engine wasn't coming to the Viper, they replied the width of the engine didn't allow it to fit the engine bay.
Why the prospect of an Alfa-based Viper with Ferrari power shouldn't trouble you
In order for Fiat Chrysler to meet its goal of no industrial debt by 2018, we'll have to get used to sharing being the name of the game.
However, in the financial quest following Chrysler's bailout and the formation of FCA, the delays targeting all the company's brands have had an amazing side effect. FCA engineers have become masters of... remastering.
Leave it to Dodge to take old Mercedes-Benz platforms and turn them into machines that are appreciated all around the world, even on continents where one has to turn to the gray market to buy such cars. The Hellcat twins, as well as the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT, or the now-confirmed future 707 hp Grand Cherokee, are the best examples of this.
So if the day comes when we'll have to get behind the wheel of such a Viper, we're pretty sure it won't feel anything like an Alfa, a Ferrari or a Dodge muscle car.
For one thing, this time around, Fiat Chrysler will have more financial resources than ever. We'll remind you FCA posted a 12 percent sales increase in December 2015, marking the 69th consecutive monthly sales boost.
As for GM's refusal to merge with Marchionne's empire, the CEO expects the situation to change once that 2018 goal mentioned above is reached, be it through an alliance with GM or another big name in the industry.
The story of a misunderstood venomous supercar
Before we go on to talk about why only a little over 500 units of the 2015MY Vipers had been sold through September last year, let's take a bit of time to remember the history of the supercar.
Upon teasing aficionados back in 1989, the Viper became a production reality back in 1992, while receiving a facelift in 1996. The second generation landed in 2003, with its refresh having taken place in 2008.
When Chrysler had to turn to a bailout in 2010, the Viper was put on a hold, but a third generation, which Dodge officials admitted had started out as a second major improvement for the 2008 model, came up in 2013.
The car, which we are still enjoying today, ended up being much more than its original target, but as we said above, next year will probably bring its demise instead of its revamp.
Despite the Viper ACR acing no less than 13 track records across the US last year, beating the Porsche 918 Spyder and McLaren P1 on Laguna Seca in the process and showing more balance on the track compared to the 2015 Corvette Z06, the Dodge isn't nearly as popular as the blown 'Vette.
The only thing we can hold against the current Viper is that, in comparison to, say, a Z06 or a Lamborghini, it does require more effort to drive on a regular basis, but the difference is no longer what it used to be (we're talking about the older Vipers here).
The problem with the Viper is that it needs to be driven in order to be understood. In spite of American keyboard warriors preaching the manual gearbox religion, most of these people will complain about fatigue after a roadtrip in a Viper.
Then there are the reptile's previous incarnations, which wanted to kill their drivers and, on top of that, didn't come with electronic aids. These cars taught the world to steer clear of what could be described (up to a point) as a shed-built supercar.
Back in September 2015, Dodge dropped the Viper's price by $15,000. As a result, the machine now starts at $84,995. While that still sits above the $78,995 MSRP of the 2015 Corvette Z06, we're talking about two different approaches here.
The Viper follows the classic custom-built recipe of a supercar, while the Z06 is a Corvette that's been dialed up, admittedly quite a lot.
Dodge even fine tuned the Viper's powertrain, squeezing an extra 5hp and improving efficiency by 1 mpg, while also adding a complex customization program reminding us of what Italian exotics offer, but that didn't boost the sales by too much either.
Since we mentioned Ferrari and Lamborghini, perhaps we need to explain that despite their Viper-comparable offerings costing around three times as much, the image-related matters keep this argument from being a relevant one.
In fact, the word “image” is like a trigger for the Viper's market issues. It's a pity that the clientele's justified poor impression of the earlier models still lasts, despite the current model's sublime character and value for money.
The current Viper is like the high school bully who has woken up to the true purpose of life after forcefully maturing over a shattering experience. The ego is still strong, but it's being put to brilliant manly use. And yet it's too late for a second chance.
Update: According to insider talk, the Viper is being sent away next year due to the supercar not being able to adopt curtain airbags and thus failing to comply with upcoming federal safety standards.