The Viper Is Snakebitten

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
the viper is snakebitten
The raw, wonderfully American, V10-engined Viper is now in its fourth generation and will likely find more buyers in 2014 than at any time in the last six years.U.S. sales results have been extremely disappointing, however, as this revamped model has failed to attract a meaningful number of buyers in comparison with the relatively recent past.And in comparison with just about all other vehicles, sports cars or not.As recently as calendar year 2003, Dodge sold more than 2100 Vipers in America. Viper volume fell consecutively in each of the four following years, but then perked up to 1172 units in 2008, when a new Viper generated 600 horsepower. Only another 1071 were sold in the three following years, before the vehicle all but disappeared for more than a year.One can’t argue with the fact that the latest Viper doesn’t look dramatically different. Although the new car, known for a while as an SRT and not a Dodge, sits so low and looks so wide and manages to shock with its brashness and boldness, the older models did so, as well. The 2014 Viper doesn’t seem so crazy now that we’re more than two decades removed from the first Viper’s wild arrival.The Viper’s spec sheet isn’t so terrifying now, either. What’s 640 horsepower when Dodge’s own Hellcat-powered Challenger SRT produces 707; when the Corvette Z06 generates 650? The Viper used to be a car with numbers that sent exotic supercars to the pit lane with tails between legs. Now it’s a ridiculously fast car surrounded by obscenely fast cars.A true Viper enthusiast will argue the merits of his car’s performance until the cows come home. But that’s not the point. There simply aren’t as many new Viper enthusiasts as there were, because Viper enthusiasts clearly aren’t as enthusiastic about the new Viper.Only 991 have been sold since the first sale of the new car was reported in February of last year. Cadillac’s ELR is more common. More discouraging is the fact that sales have slowed dramatically. It seemed like nothing when only 226 had been sold through the new vehicle’s first five months. Give them time to ramp it up, let prospective Viper owners make room in their garage, let summer come.But after peaking at 97 sales in June 2013 – a peak which was matched this April – sales dwindled in each of the next two months. Never were more than 70 sold between August 2013 and March of this year. Year-over-year, Viper volume declined slightly in May, plunged 63% in June, and fell 51% in July. They stopped building them, because the ones they’d already built weren’t being sold.
The unfavourable comparisons aren’t made with the Chevrolet Corvette, a car which is selling at a not-seen-in-years kind of pace. (30,265 Corvettes have been sold in the last ten months. On an annual basis, GM hasn’t achieved a 30K year since 2007.)No, in a way, the Viper can more easily be likened to the Nissan GT-R. Oh, they’re tremendously different cars, of that there can be no doubt. But they are both $102,000 performance vehicles sold by volume automakers. Nissan sold 1237 GT-Rs in 2013, more than double the volume achieved by the Viper.Although continuously updated, the GT-R is basically the car which American buyers were first driving home in 2008. Nissan has reported 651 GT-R sales already this year, a number Chrysler dealers will struggle to match with the Viper by year’s end. Since the latest Viper arrived in the first quarter of last year, Nissan has sold more than 100 GT-Rs in a single month on nine different occasions.FCA won’t build this car forever if it remains unwanted. Long live the Alfa Romeo 4C?
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  • BklynPete BklynPete on Aug 21, 2014

    The Viper deserves to die. There, I said it. Over $100K for something you can barely drive on the street? Give me a break. Given the Hellcat and great mainstream products FCA now has, how is the Viper even a halo anymore, especially when few dealers even have one? When it came out, the Viper was a more modern incarnation of the Shelby Cobra. That was 22 years ago. FCA would be wise to pull the plug and start increasing the rarity value of a Viper. Like they say in dating, give her the gift of missing you. I bet even Lutz would agree with me in private. The Cobra lasted what, 5 years before safety standards and buyer tastes changed? Didn't they cost the same or more than Vettes, 911s or E-types? And how many did Ole Shel sell anyway? Very few. That's why some are worth millions. Finally, look at it this way: if the brilliant FCA product planners see the demand coming back, like it did with Camaro or Challenger, they could always do an update. In the meantime, direct the resources to better mass-market passenger cars. Lord knows they need those.

  • Neb Neb on Aug 21, 2014

    It reminds me, of all things, of the Plymouth Prowler. It looked completely outrageous, but was a performance car only in an Aesthetic sense. So once it had been out for a few years, the newness of the looks faded, and there was no reason to buy one. The Viper was a much stronger car, as it had amazing performance for its era, as well as looking gorgeous. So when the novelty of the looks wore off, it still had the performance. Now, as many other posters here have noted, performance cars have come a long way. You used to be able to count the 400+ horsepower/ less-than-house-money cars on one hand; now, I can't name all of them off the top of my head. So the shine has gone off the other reason to buy a Viper, as well. I suspect, too, that many of the people who were buying Vipers are now looking at Challengers and Chargers. Doubly so now that 700 hp models are out.

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