Gilles: Viper has 'never tried to be Corvette'

Ralph Gilles, head of the SRT brand and Chrysler Group's design operations: "Whoever buys a Viper is someone special."
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Ralph Gilles, head of the SRT brand and Chrysler Group's design operations, says the design of the 2015 Chrysler 200 will influence future Chrysler products. He also says that the Viper shouldn't be compared with the Chevrolet Corvette.

Gilles, 44, spoke with Staff Reporter Larry P. Vellequette this month at the Detroit auto show.

Q: How will the 2015 Chrysler 200 styling translate to future Chryslers?

A: It's a kind of a fluidic surface that looks as though it is responding to the elements. That's the whole thing: Make the car look organic, like it grew that way. I'm a big, big fan of holistic design, so the vehicle blends and looks cohesive. Everything responds and reacts to each other. It gives you an end result that looks like people really sweat the details. If there's anything you're going to see from Chrysler, it's that we're going to sweat the details on every car we make.

You've launched a program this winter in the South to let consumers test drive Vipers. How are consumers responding?

It's going really good, and we've actually sold many vehicles. A lot of it was understanding the car. We got a lot of customers to drive the car that hadn't. We've been watching the buzz in online forums and in the blogs, and the reaction has been amazing.

Unfortunately, people had it in their minds that the car was just an evolution, and it's not. It's a whole new machine. It's direct. It's handmade. It's tight.

Gilles: We are shifting to a different business model.

Have you changed the SRT brand's operation because of the Viper's delayed rollout last year?

I think we're on the right track. The orders are strong. But we are shifting to a different business model.

We're trying to make packages because it's easy for the dealers to digest, but we are not Corvette. We've never tried to be Corvette. We never will be. We're handmade. It takes 18 hours to paint the stripe on a Viper. We color sand the entire car, inside and outside. All the panels are beautifully finished. We're trying to build a custom show car that you can own. This is not a disposable device here.

What do you think about the notion that the Viper can lose customers because it lacks an optional automatic transmission?

We're not working on it as we speak, but we're open-minded to it.

Is it an emotional or a business reason that keeps Viper from offering an automatic transmission?

It's both. In a way, it's further distinguishing us because everyone has paddle shifters and we don't. But at the same time, we're also seeing now where people are noticing and saying, "Wow, it's like the last driver's car left." That's exactly what it's been about all along.

It's a choice people make. Whoever buys a Viper is someone special. They're not normal.

It's someone who really wants to rock and roll and feel alive and not have a filtered experience. It's a car we designed for pleasure.

Are more SRT versions of other Chrysler Group vehicles coming? Perhaps an SRT Cherokee or Dart or 200?

There's a lot of good news coming from SRT before this summer. I just can't talk about it now.

You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at lvellequette@crain.com.


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