Once upon a time, the Dodge brand was brimming with pride. In the mid-to-late 1990s, Dodge had it all: affordable compacts, big front-drive cruisers, the hottest trucks on the market, and of course, the Viper. And when the times were good, all of those part melded into one brash, exciting, quintessentially American brand. From Neons and Intrepids, from Rams to Vipers, Dodge could do it all, as long as “it all” included a healthy dash of in-your-face attitude. But over the years, as Dodge’s shining moment faded into memory, the brand has managed to become both less viscerally appealing and less well-rounded. And when Fiat’s leadership stripped Dodge of the Ram “brand,” shucked its designs of their truckish cues, and repositioned Dodge as a more “youthful” and “refined” sporting brand, it seemed as if Dodge as we knew it was dying. Since hearing of Fiat’s plans to bring Alfa stateside, and with Dodge appearing to have lost out in brand alignment product battles, we’ve been wondering for some time now if Dodge isn’t headed out to pasture. Now there’s even more evidence that Dodge is being hollowed out en route to replacement with Alfa, as Automotive News [sub] reports
Absent from the redesigned SRT Viper will be the name Dodge… Viper has been linked to Dodge since the Dodge Viper RT/10 concept debuted in 1989. The first Dodge Viper SRT-10 went on sale in 1992, and over the years 28,056 Vipers were produced, according to Chrysler.
Not any more. Essentially, SRT becomes a brand with its own vehicle, in this case the SRT Viper.
That’s right, Dodge won’t have a Viper or a Ram (or, more prosaically, an Avenger or Caravan). Some might argue that, absent these components, the Dodge name doesn’t mean much of anything anymore. Certainly it doesn’t seem that Dodge can have a particularly bright future without any links to its last moment of glory.
Chrysler Group insists that the branding shift has nothing, NOTHING, to do with any elimination of the Dodge brand. In the words of a Chrysler Group spokesman,
SRT is the high-performance end of the company. The whole brand philosophy and the branding separation between Dodge and SRT will evolve over time. This is kind of that first step establishing what SRT means to the company and what that car means to the brand.
The other side of the company’s argument: the Dodge brand has “baggage” in some global markets, and by branding it as an SRT, the Viper can have a unified global brand and be sold (theoretically) at Alfa and Maserati stores. On the downside, these kinds of sleight-of-brand moves don’t tend to fool anybody, and more to the point, how many consumers know anything about the SRT “brand”? But all that aside, the mere existence of an SRT brand seems to trade off directly with Dodge’s continued success. After all, without trucks or performance halos, what exactly is Dodge again? And with Dodge’s post-Fiat-takeover brand boss Ralph Gilles jumping from Dodge to SRT, it seems that the corporate winds are blowing the once-proud Dodge brand towards oblivion. Perhaps Alfa will ultimately prove to be the more compelling performance brand, but in the short term, Fiat-Chrysler seems to be trading in one potentially strong brand for two relative unknowns.