Chris Theodore, Ford's former head of North American product development and the man who brought us the Ford GT, stopped by this morning to chat with editor-in-chief Jean Jennings and to tell us more about one of his current projects as vice chairman and chief technical officer of Saleen.
That would be the mid-engine Saleen S5S Raptor supercar concept that debuted at this year's New York auto show.
Saleen and its partner company, ASC, Theodore reminded us, are "the largest independent design facility in the world." The product guru elaborates: "We did the S5S partly to showcase our design capability. It was done right here in Michigan, in Warren, by one of our young designers, David Byron. We had an in-house design competition among half a dozen designers, and it came down to two finalists. We had a Betty Crocker bake-off, and David's design won.
"Yes, the car has the potential for reality. We are well aware that the sweet spot in supercars is between about $150K and $200K." [Where Bentley has done so well with the Continental GT.] "We also wanted to showcase our new 5.0-liter, 620-hp motor, which is already available in our Extreme Mustang. We decided, let's float the idea of an E85-dedicated vehicle, and bump hp to 650.
"We designed the car around a feasible business model. And the next thing was to see the market reaction. The response at New York was phenomenal. We got 10 million hits on our Web site, and thousands of articles of one form or another were published.
"Now the car is on tour with some of our 200 Saleen dealers. The S5S Raptor is clearly a magnet for the Saleen brand.
"We have not yet decided whether to build the car. It will be difficult to find the right partner, and there are lots of technical and manufacturing obstacles. If we do decide to build it, though, I could have a prototype S5S Raptor up and running in six months, and it would take a couple of years to bring it to market.
"If we decide to do it, sometime in 2009 we'd have a running prototype."
Build it, Chris. America should not cede this profitable, image-building slice of the car market to the Italians, the Brits, and the Germans. (And the Japanese. The Lexus LF-A might play in this price league, as well.) The new Corvette ZR1 and the Dodge Viper ACR are cresting the $100K mark, but with the demise of the Ford GT, there's nothing else coming out of Detroit to take on the Ferrari F430, the Lamborghini Gallardo, the Aston Martin V8 Vantage, and the Porsche 911 GT2. The slow-selling, outrageously expensive, practically undriveable Saleen S7 supercar, really just a racing car with street clothes, was too much of a stretch for the Saleen brand. But the S5S Raptor is exotic, hot, and uniquely American. Build it!