Slow start for Viper, but Chrysler insists its supercar is building momentum image

Launched to a huge acclaim last year, so far Chrysler Group’s reborn Viper has generated more buzz than sold units. But the head of the SRT brand insists the Detroit supercar continues to build momentum.

SRT CEO Ralph Gilles – who also serves as Chrysler Group chief designer – insists that dealers have been a bottleneck and that the order books for the Viper are close to full. Nonetheless, the maker is not looking at sales alone when it measures the success of the Viper. “Volume is not our be all and end all,” said Gilles.

Gilles estimated SRT sales are up 23% so far this year and he is looking for more growth next year, both inside the U.S. where Chrysler has traditionally been focused, but also in the overseas markets the maker has been trying to grow into since forming its alliance with Fiat SpA in 2009.

“We’re still in a brand building phase,” added Gilles, who noted SRT emerged as a performance brand on its own two years ago after serving as a brand-within-a-brand over the years, drawing in enthusiasts who wanted the highest performance possible for products like the Dodge Challenger and Chrysler 300.

SRT is also looking at developing a small, “entry level” model. “Dart’s a natural,” added Gilles during an interview at the Los Angeles Auto Show. But he was careful to note nothing has been approved yet.

While it was never expected to be the new brand’s volume leader, the Viper was seen as a halo car for SRT – and the Chrysler Group as a whole. Gilles seemed intent on setting the record straight on the 2-seat sports car’s lackluster sales.

“We underestimated how slowly the car builds. Each one is hand built. It takes a lot longer to finish,” noted Gilles, who said that part of the problem is the extensive use of new carbon fiber technology which is much more difficult to work with than steel or aluminum.

With the original production target unreachable, the decision was made during the summer to stop building the 2013 Viper and switch over to the 2014 model, which SRT began shipping to customers in August and September.

Gilles said the good news for Chrysler and SRT is the new Viper is selling at a very high transaction price – an average $145,000 – roughly twice the price of a fully loaded 2014 Chevrolet Corvette.