DETROIT – Chrysler Group is toying with the idea of taking the Chrysler brand into a segment where it has never been a player: super sports cars.

The new Chrysler ME Four-Twelve prepares to take on Ferrari, Lamborghini and Bugatti brands with its 12-cyl. engine and aggressive design.

The ME follows true super sports-car form, with its mid-engine, rear-drive configuration. The 12-cyl. engine, with four turbochargers, produces 850 hp at 5,750 rpm and 850 lb.-ft. (1,152 Nm) of torque from 2,500-4,500 rpm.

Chrysler debuts ME Four-Twelve prototype at North American International Auto Show.

The auto maker estimates the ME, which has a curb weight of only 2,828 lbs. (1,283 kg), can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph (97 km/h) in just 2.9-seconds.

Chrysler points out the ME is not a concept vehicle, rather a prototype that is fully functional and production feasible.

“You can turn, you can fire the engine; it all works,” says Chrysler Chief Operating Officer Wolfgang Bernhard. “All the crash work is done, and all the thermal testing basically is done. The groundwork has been done.”

The only question is whether the auto maker actually will produce such a vehicle, a project that would require an enormous amount of study to build a business case.

“We have to get customers, that’s the first thing, and after the customers, we check off whether we can make it,” Bernhard says. “Assuming that it works and we get a business case, it will go into production.”

Chrysler will take the car on a tour of the U.S. starting next month to complete testing, while also gauging consumer reaction on whether it should be built.

“By the summer, I hope everything will be done,” Bernhard says.

If the project gets the green light, it will take upwards of 36 months to actually tie up the loose ends for production vehicles.

Volume and pricing also remain in flux. Bernhard says the ME could be priced anywhere between $240,000 and $1 million, while volumes would range in the hundreds of units annually, not thousands.

At a time when auto makers are devising new incentive programs to attract customers and keep the metal moving, it seems unlikely Chrysler would seriously consider such a vehicle. The auto maker, however, contends today’s environment is perfect for the ME to make its debut.

“This makes even more sense in (today’s) environment because, ultimately, you cannot just save your way to prosperity, you have to be successful on the revenue side as well,” says Chrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche. “In our industry, revenues are still defined by emotion, by the dreams of people.”

It’s also vital for Chrysler’s engineers to stretch their imaginations and their perceptions of the brand, Bernhard says.

“There is nothing more difficult to engineer than a car like this, because you are always at the absolute of extremes with horsepower, the g-forces, with temperatures,” he says. “You are always out there at the rugged edge. It’s good for Chrysler to have an icon that serves as an engineering statement and also serves as the guiding star in terms of design.”

Chrysler used a number of high-performance-vehicle suppliers to complete the manufacturing of the ME, including Ricardo Inc. and AMG, the Mercedes-Benz high-performance division, which developed the engine.

The auto maker would have to rely heavily on its supply base to bring the ME to fruition, Bernhard adds. He says assembly might have to be outsourced to suppliers that are acquainted with building carbon-fiber vehicles.

kekelly@primediabusiness.com