Chrysler Considering Sale of Dodge Viper Program

It came to life as one Bob’s pet project, and now another Bob may sell the Viper, permanently.

When then-president Bob Lutz introduced the Viper concept at the 1989 Detroit auto show, public reaction was so great that the Cobra homage was greenlit for production. The car has now been in production since 1992 and has undergone several major revisions over its lifespan. It has a cult-like following with an active owners’ club and yearly gatherings. It even spawned a short-lived television show in the mid-90s.

And now Chrysler may give up what was once Dodge’s halo car. Chrysler LLC chairman and CEO Bob Nardelli announced today that the company is looking into selling off the Dodge Viper program to help the struggling automaker focus on more relevant projects.

“We have been approached by third parties who are interested in exploring future possibilities for Viper,” said Nardelli. “As the Company evaluates strategic options to maximize core operations and leverage its assets, we have agreed to listen to these parties. We will do so keeping in mind the best interests of those who have shown tremendous support for the vehicle – including employees, suppliers, dealers and a worldwide group of loyal Viper owners and enthusiasts. Viper is an integral part of this Company’s heritage. While this is a strategic review, our intent would be to offer strong operational and financial support during any potential transaction, in order to ensure a future for the Viper business and perpetuate the legacy of this great vehicle.”

Cutting through the business talk, it’s obvious that a potential sale would be an opportunity for Chrysler to make some money while discontinuing the niche model and also ensuring the vehicle’s continued existence. In the statement, Chrysler was careful to note that this strategic review is “unique to the Viper specialty vehicle,” and not a sign of the company trying to sell off all of its valuable assets.

The sale would make sound financial sense. At this point, Dodge no longer needs a halo car, it needs high-volume products. The Viper was rumored to be at the end of its life anyway, so selling the brand and its associated assets would be a profitable way to cease production of a vehicle that would otherwise just disappear. Selling the Viper would boost the bottom line while freeing up members of the SRT team to work on projects that would do more to help the company’s future.

Who might these interested parties be? Given their investment in developing aftermarket packages for the Viper, we could see tuner company Hennessey as a logical suitor. Traditional Mustang-maker Saleen is another possibility, as the company is already responsible for painting the Viper’s body panels at its Troy, Michigan, facility. If someone does end up buying the Viper, it would likely continue to be built in its current form with an agreement for Chrysler to supply the necessary shared parts. Other Viper suppliers would have to sign off on the deal as well, and would probably be happy to do so given their other option.

From the enthusiast standpoint, we would like to see the Viper live on in capable hands, keeping its basic formula of mega power and grip. During its 16-year run, Dodge engineers took the Viper from a 400-hp beast to the present 600-hp version with handling and even creature comforts improving along the way. And just think of what the new owners could do with it once the corporate lawyers are no longer involved.