Since its introduction in 1992, the Dodge Viper has always been sort of a brash, vulgar brute of a car that was such a conglomeration of the parts bin that it’s a wonder that it worked at all. It originally had an engine sourced from a truck, its exhaust had a tendency to sear the drivers’ legs, there weren’t any door handles, there wasn’t any air conditioning, ABS, or traction control, and at full tilt it sounded demonic in the best way possible. Its rag-tag nature made it beloved, though, as if it was the Corvette’s demented older half-sibling or something.
Over the years, the formula has changed somewhat but has remained largely the same. The current model is far more refined, doesn’t burn its occupants, has air conditioning, and even has a full infotainment system. But it still uses the same basic principles: an enormous naturally aspirated V10 up front powering the rear wheels, a no-bullshit attitude, and its glorious demon-summoning exhaust note. There’s only one issue: it hasn’t been selling.
Back in March, production of the 2014 SRT Viper was slowed to bring manufacturing more in-line with demand. This followed another production cut in October of last year, which saw Viper builds slow by a third. Apparently, demand for the Viper hasn’t improved since, and SRT is slicing off $15,000 to help boost the appetite for the niche vehicle. For a vehicle that once commanded $102,000 at base — or at least tried to — the 645 horsepower 2015 model will now be priced at $84,995 to start. The TA and GTS models will follow, with $100,995 and $107,995 price tags, respectively.
“The Gen 5 Viper maintains the purity of the original car, with its seductive design, perfect weight balance, and all-aluminum V10 with an additional 245 horsepower [over the 400 horsepower first generation Viper],” said Dodge and SRT boss Tim Kuniskis. “But the rawness has been tamed with state-of-the-art five-mode ESC, two-mode suspension, ABS, traction control, launch control, and a lightweight structure comprised of carbon fiber, magnesium, and aluminum. Despite the Gen 5?s massive leap forward in technology and performance, we’re pulling its starting price back to the equivalent of the original Gen 1 car.”
What Kuniskis is referring to is that the new price slashing brings the current model’s price down to what the original Viper once cost. When it debuted, it ran for $50,700 when new, or about $86,130 in today’s dollars. The new price is “the same price it was seven years ago, when we were selling two and a half times as many,” he said.
“I think the current car is so much better than any other Viper we’ve ever built, but we’ve got to fix the one last piece: We’ve got to fix the retail equation. We’ve got to fix what’s going on in the dealership, in the showroom,” he told Automotive News. “It’s the dealer network, it’s the inventory, it’s the pricing, it’s how we sell the car. We have to fix all of that.”
As of September first, SRT was reeling from a a 434-day supply of Vipers — about 600 models of which were languishing on dealer lots. Strategically speaking, the new price cuts bring the SRT in-line with the yet-to-be-released 650 horsepower Corvette Z06, which has been pegged at about $79,000, making it one of the best performance bargains, arguably ever for a new car. While the Viper has struggled, Chevrolet hasn’t been able to stock the new Corvette fast enough.
If the Corvette didn’t exist, the Viper would probably have a much larger audience; but the truth is that it does. At under $60,000 for 460 horsepower, the Corvette makes a very compelling case for bargain performance; when you’re playing in the six-figure range like the Viper is, buyers may just be more likely to bite the proverbial bullet and shell out a bit more for a Porsche. Does it have as much power? No. But when it comes to performance cars, brand power is as important as horsepower, and in some cases even more so.
So with the Corvette occupying the affordable supercar performance niche and Porsche coming in from the high-end, the Viper is finding itself being squeezed out of its own market. Coupled with the loss of its raucous nature and rogue hooliganism, the Viper is now less desirable against its renewed competition. Part of the issue is that the company sees the Viper more as gunning for Lamborghini or Ferrari, in which case it boasts an enormous discount — but consumers see it more as competition against the Corvette.
The decision to slash prices might give a small spike in sales, but it’s hardly a long-term fix for the car; the Viper is a car that people need to feel passionate about, and if people were indeed that passionate, they would shell out the extra cash for a very capable sports car and there wouldn’t be a 430 day backlog on Chrysler’s end. The company needs to do something urgently, and under Fiat’s care, maybe some infusion of Ferrari DNA could help gain a following — though that would surely piss off the purists.
Dodge will be offering all existing Gen 5 Viper owners will get a certificate worth $15,000 that can be redeemed toward the purchase of a new Dodge Viper in addition to the $15,000 price reduction. This means that current owners who paid the $100,000-plus MSRP can now get as much as $30,000 off a new Viper.
“We want to bring the plant back up. We want to get our people working again,” he said. “We want to get the suppliers back up and running and get this thing humming along again,” Kuniskis told Automotive News. “It’s a hugely important car to the brand. It sends a big message about who we are, especially now with the way Dodge is positioned as a performance brand.”