Chicago 2014: Ralph Gilles Downplays Rumors Of SRT Barracuda, Dart

SRT president Ralph Gilles may have named his two-year-old Australian cattle dog “Cuda,” but he downplays persistent rumors that the performance brand will launch a new car called the Barracuda.

“It’s something that has grown legs on its own. It’s not something that we have confirmed,” he says at the Chicago auto show.

While Gilles hedges that, “I never say never,” he stresses that an SRT Barracuda would need to be significantly different from the existing Challenger, Charger, and 300 SRT models to make sense in the lineup. Primarily, it would need to be significantly smaller than those cars, and that would require a pricey new platform just for that car. Moreover, Gilles points out that the Plymouth brand, which launched the original Barracuda muscle car, doesn’t even exist anymore.

“It’s a romantic name, it’s a very storied name,” he admits.

As for SRT expanding its reach to smaller cars, Gilles stresses that no firm decisions have been made.

“That’s probably the number one question on my Twitter,” he laughs. “We did disproportionately well with the Neon-based SRT4.”

Gilles says that SRT would consider building a smaller performance car — based on a car like the Dodge Dart — only if such a model met the brand’s internal performance and quality standards. The biggest stumbling block, he says, “Is the right powertrain. We have to be happy with something that matches who we are.”

Viper Still Strong

As to the brand’s most visible performance car, Gilles says he’s happy with the sales and demand for the SRT Viper. While overall volumes are low — SRT sold just 591 Vipers in all of 2013 — he says that fits the car’s image.

“I don’t know why the whole world is so worried about Viper sales,” he says. “It’s an exotic… We’re focused on exclusivity, it’s not about cranking out a bunch of chocolates.”

“It’s a hand-made vehicle,” Gilles continues. “It was never designed to be a mass-production car.”

In fact, for certain variants like the Viper T/A and the new GT package, there are waiting lists and extensive pre-orders from avid Viper customers.

That sense of exclusivity is furthered by the long list of custom options available for the Viper. Gilles notes that the pricey Stryker Red paint scheme, for instance, was intended to be applied to just 30 cars but that 53 copies were produced due to high customer demand. Going forward, he says to expect the SRT Viper to offer more limited-run or custom options.

“We are allowing our customers to basically build their own dream car,” he explains. “That’s how you keep the car exclusive… make the cars as collectible as possible.”

As to where the SRT Viper will go next, Gilles says to stay tuned. “We have some ideas, but I can’t really talk about that.” He won’t comment on the possibility of a Viper roadster, and as to adding more horsepower to the current car? “Good lord, son. It’s got plenty of power!”

“We had that discussion internally — let’s go up to the moon with power — but we focused on power-to-weight ratio,” Gilles says. “There’s always a handful of [customers] who would want more power, more for bragging rights than actual usage. But in terms of balancing the car’s weight and how it drives, 640 [hp] was the sweet spot.”