LOS ANGELES – Ralph Gilles wants to set the record straight: The SRT Viper isn’t going away.
did scale back production earlier this year due to slow sales. But Gilles, president and CEO of Chrysler’s SRT Brand and Motorsports, says the car has a bright future.
“The plant is booked solid. We actually have several hundred units outstanding we still have to build,” Gilles tells WardsAuto during an interview at the auto show here.
Gilles admits the launch of the fifth-generation Viper was not ideally timed. “We had a very late launch. We were six months offset from where we wanted to be,” he says.
initially planned to deliver cars beginning last January, but significant volume was not achieved until June. “It went on sale in April, but we didn’t deliver the cars” until later, he says. “So we missed the spring selling season.”
Interest in the Viper is strong, and dealers have been clamoring for the car, he says. But the new model is more expensive (base price $97,395) and offers a lot more optional equipment than in the past.
Gilles says the dealers were not prepared to deal with such bespoke customer requests and instead were ordering cars that might not find a buyer.
“I don’t think our network understands the segment very well,” he says. “I think the mistake we’re making is understanding the customer who spends $130,000 to $140,000 for a car. They want what they want – their color, their stripe, their package, their interior. And dealers were trying to anticipate the market ended up creating a car that may not be the right car.”
To fix the problem, Chrysler has launched a fourth-quarter training program across the U.S. Gilles calls it the “All Access Tour,” and it pairs dealers with existing Viper owners and prospective customers. “We basically have them test drive the vehicles,” he says of potential buyers.
Of Chrysler’s 2,300 U.S. dealers, 443 are Viper stores also selling Jeep, Dodge and Ram products. Gilles says there are 165 stores without any Vipers and a handful that have as many as four, waiting for buyers.
“Most of these vehicles are enjoying an incredibly wonderful life sitting in showrooms looking very sexy, and they’ve been sitting there since August,” he says. “So it’s not really all that bad. I’m not worried about the sales.”
With the new Viper, output at the Conner Avenue plant peaked at nine units a day and since has been scaled back to six.
“We purposely slowed down production. As spring comes in, we can easily go into overtime and up that number very easily,” Gilles says, adding that any fears the plant will close are unwarranted.
“When we trimmed production, we took about a third of the staff and reallocated them to other plants.” Workers with low seniority were reassigned to Chrysler’s Warren Truck or Jefferson Avenue plants.
Chrysler has built about 800 ’13 Vipers and now has begun assembling ’14 cars, which include “TA” Time Attack editions.
At the auto show here, Chrysler announces a limited production run beginning January of 50 Viper GTS models with matte-finish Anodized Carbon paint.
Gilles says the Anodized Carbon models “have been allocated to dealers and they’re already spoken for. And the TAs are gone. Orders opened up and in three days they were gone.”
These latest offerings reinforce Chrysler’s ability to meet specific demand, he says. “We have a thousand-plus ways you can order a Viper right now. We’d rather direct our dealers to allow people to do it that way, to order their own special car.”
Chrysler has sold 28,994 Vipers since it first arrived in 1992. Of those, 24,833 have been to U.S. customers, according to WardsAuto data. Gilles says there are about 500 cars in stock, waiting for buyers.
Through October, Chrysler sold 495 Vipers. Its best year was 2003 (2,103 units).