Since the Dodge Viper’s splashy reintroduction at the 2012 New York auto show, the two-seat sports coupe has moved fast everywhere except where it matters most: off dealer lots. In fact, Viper sales have been so low for so long that some Chrysler Group dealers mockingly refer to the car as the “Vedsel,” a reference to Ford’s ill-fated Edsel.
But now Dodge has a plan to boost Viper sales. The brand will cut $15,000 from the sticker price of the more than 600 unsold Vipers on dealer lots. It also will offer $15,000 coupons to recent Viper buyers to trade in their 2013 or 2014 Viper on another one or to buy an additional Viper, and it will open Viper sales to all Dodge dealers. In addition, Dodge will market Viper with the rest of the brand’s lineup, treating the 640-hp, V-10-powered car as a halo vehicle.
Dodge will start taking orders for 2015 Vipers this month, although it will temporarily suspend production of the top-end GTS and TA trims. Instead, the brand will introduce a GT trim level just above the base that will have the most popular equipment sought by Viper customers, Dodge brand head Tim Kuniskis told Automotive News.
“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,” Kuniskis said. “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.”
Chrysler has made the decision to suspend production of the SRT Viper for a least two months, citing slow sales. The move is expected to result in layoffs of 91 hourly workers at Chrysler’s Conner …
When the re-engineered Viper arrived in the second quarter of 2013, the base price was more than $100,000. Some dealers tacked on market adjustments that boosted prices even higher.
Since April 2013, the Viper has averaged just 60 U.S. sales per month, according to the Automotive News Data Center. In August, dealers nationwide sold just 38 Vipers, down 38 percent from a year earlier.
On Sept. 1, dealers and Chrysler had more than 600 unsold Vipers in stock — a 434-day supply — and about one-third of those vehicles were unsold 2013 models.
Chrysler’s Conner Avenue plant in Detroit, where the Viper is built, has worked just 10 days since April 14 and has been idled since July 3.
Given the slow sales, some dealers and outside observers have questioned whether the car that debuted in 1991 should be retired.
Chrysler executives have defended the low sales, saying that the Viper is an exclusive, exotic car that is better compared with Ferrari and Lamborghini vehicles than with the much higher-selling Chevrolet Corvette.
Kuniskis said the Viper must be saved because of what it means to Dodge and its enthusiasts.
“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,” he said.
Kuniskis said it’s important to get the Conner Avenue plant working again because, despite hundreds of days of unsold inventory, he has orders for new Vipers that can’t be filled because the plant is down.
“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. But I’ve got some inventory out there still, so this should take care of some of that inventory.”
The plan to fix the Viper hatched after a July gathering of about 500 Viper owners from the U.S. and Canada at Chrysler’s headquarters in suburban Detroit. Kuniskis said he spent hours meeting Viper owners and seeking their input.
He said the Viper’s price hike — its base sticker price jumped from $86,425 in 2008 to $101,880, including shipping but excluding the gas guzzler tax — made it seem unattainable, especially to Dodge buyers.
“It’s not that I’m lowering the price $15,000; it’s a psychological thing to put you back into the realm of being an accessible car at a price point that I think is right for the car,” Kuniskis said.
The new $86,880 base sticker, including shipping but excluding the gas guzzler tax, is almost identical to the 1992 model’s sticker price, adjusted for inflation. It is “the same price it was seven years ago, when we were selling two and a half times as many,” he said.
For the 1,025 customers who bought a 2013 or 2014 Viper, the $15,000 coupons — good for them or an immediate family member through Jan. 2, 2018 — are a way to “true up” the values of their Vipers.
“I can eliminate the depreciation you have today in your car if you come in and trade it in, or get you pretty damn close,” Kuniskis said.
He said he will also change the way Vipers are allocated, limiting stocks to a 30-day supply, to prevent all but the most experienced Viper dealers from stockpiling the car.
While all Dodge dealers will be able to sell the Viper beginning this month, the more than 400 dealers who paid $25,000 each in 2012 for the privilege won’t get their money back.
Dodge dealers will still have to pay for the tools and training to work on the Viper, Kuniskis said.