RICK KRANZ

The not-a-Dodge Viper? Here’s why it makes sense

Automotive News | December 23, 2011 - 10:23 am EST

What’s going on? Dodge without “Viper,” Viper without “Dodge”?

I think I figured out the strategy.

Last week Chrysler Group revealed that production of the next-generation SRT Viper will begin late next year. Chrysler will reopen the Conner Avenue assembly plant in Detroit to build the two-passenger sports car. The last Viper was built there in July 2010.

Absent from the redesigned SRT Viper will be the name Dodge, the automaker said. Viper has been linked to Dodge since the Dodge Viper RT/10 concept debuted in 1989. The first Dodge Viper SRT-10 went on sale in 1992, and over the years 28,056 Vipers were produced, according to Chrysler.

Not any more. Essentially, SRT becomes a brand with its own vehicle, in this case the SRT Viper.

Why? Chrysler wants to elevate the SRT brand, and Chrysler sees the SRT Viper as the halo vehicle for the brand, said Chrysler spokesman Dan Reid.

“SRT is the high-performance end of the company,” Reid said in a telephone interview. “The whole brand philosophy and the branding separation between Dodge and SRT will evolve over time. This is kind of that first step establishing what SRT means to the company and what that car means to the brand.”

But I think there is another reason for dropping “Dodge.” Call it an international strategy.

Chrysler can market the car as the SRT Viper outside the United States without links to the Dodge brand and any baggage the Dodge name carries globally. The car might be able to command a higher price, too.

For example, the SRT Viper could be sold in a Maserati dealership in China or an Alfa Romeo store in Italy, and the name Dodge, tied to mainstream U.S. vehicles, especially trucks, will be nowhere to be found.

Reid won’t talk about international strategy. He said a little information will be announced in April at the New York auto show, where the redesigned car will be unveiled.

Over the years, a handful of Vipers have been exported. From my point of view, dropping “Dodge” gives Chrysler more options for selling the SRT Viper globally. And, more options generally mean more sales.

The last Dodge Viper rolls of the line in Detroit in July 2010. The new SRT Viper could be marketable around the world.

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