Rumors are spreading that the Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Group is planning to revive the Viper—yes, barely over two years after it got axed. It sounds like the American front mid-engined, rear-wheel-drive sports car won’t be gone for too long. At least that’s the hope of many motorheads here in the US. There’s nothing wrong with hope, and science actually says hope and optimism are good for the brain. So, is hoping for a new Dodge Viper any good or is that hope likely to break your heart?
Anyway, it would be wise to look at the reasons the Viper was axed in the first place before discussing its possible return. What went wrong with the model? What does the future hold for the legendary American sports car? Let’s take a trip down memory lane.
The birth and the end of the Dodge Viper
Dodge first introduced the Viper as a concept at the 1989 North American International Auto Show, and it was in 1991 when the first-generation Viper rolled out of Chrysler’s then-newly put-up New Mack assembly line.
The first-generation Dodge Viper sported sleek exterior styling that was way ahead of its time. It also carried a V10 engine capable of 400 hp and 465 lb-ft of torque, which was based on Chrysler’s LA V8 engine. The Viper was only meant to last until 1997 and was supposed to be replaced by a completely new model.
Unexpectedly, however, the Viper lasted for 20 more years until it met its worst challenge—the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) #226. This standard regulates automotive ejection mitigation in the US and it turned out that the Viper couldn’t comply as it lacked room for side curtain airbags. As expected, the car didn’t live long past its 25th year on the market.
Production finally came to an end in 2017.
It was more than just the airbags
The side curtain airbag wasn’t the only problem faced by FCA’s halo car. In 2018, the late Sergio Marchionne, then-CEO of FCA, revealed to the press that one of the reasons the company couldn’t keep the Viper in production was because of its poor sales. This backs why the group was quick to let the Viper go the moment the federal safety standard problem blew up. All FCA had to do was to redesign the car to fit the necessary features, but it didn’t want to spend millions on a car that wasn’t really bringing in the sales.
Another problem the car and its owners faced was the lack of safety features like traction control and an anti-lock braking system (ABS). The absence of these features made the car nearly impossible to maneuver at high speeds, especially for inexperienced drivers. This also led to a lot of crashes.
— Top Gear (@BBC_TopGear) December 2, 2019
Are we going to see a 2021 Dodge Viper?
If the Viper is indeed making a comeback, this won’t be the first time. It went away for a year in 2011 after four generations, but the fifth-generation model—which finally featured traction control—debuted in April 2012 at the New York International Auto Show.
Is the Viper bound for the same fate sometime in 2021 just as the rumors claim?
There are two sides here: business and ambition. Business is the main reason why FCA axed the Viper in 2017, while ambition was the driving force that led to the production of the Viper in 1991 and its rebirth in 2012. Back in the late ‘80s, Dodge knew it needed a halo car to rival its two giant competitors, Ford and Chevrolet. The idea was to make a modern-day interpretation of the legendary Shelby Cobra—not to go head-to-head with the Chevy Corvette.
Bob Lutz, who was the president of operations at the time, did everything he could to make the dream come true. There’s your ambition.
Business-wise, however, the plan didn’t pan out the way the company envisioned it. Sales began to drop as the entire coupe segment hit rock bottom. Some believe that the market’s shift from manual to automatic transmissions was also a significant factor as to why the Dodge Viper failed to meet expectations. But against all odds, FCA managed to bring it back to life in 2012.
The point is that the snake was once gone and came back not long after. Will it be the same story this time around?
Cutting to the chase: Is the Dodge Viper ever coming back?
For a better guesstimate, let’s look at FCA’s current situation, shall we? In October 2019, reports about FCA celebrating a 0.1% sales increase in the third quarter surfaced on the web. While this may sound fairly positive, the increase was the lowest compared to FCA’s five largest-selling rivals, namely General Motors (6.3%), Ford (4.9%), Honda (2.4%), Toyota (9.9%), and Nissan (4.8%). At this point, it’s quite understandable to doubt whether the company can put up a new Viper project, but let’s dig deeper.
The little success FCA saw was mostly thanks to larger vehicles such as the Ram pickup trucks and Jeep models. However, Dodge Charger and Challenger sales also rose despite them being fuel-thirsty, expensive machines. If these models managed to do well despite their downsides, couldn’t a new Viper do the same? Or what if it doesn’t need to chug on gas? A more recent report by The Verge in November 2019 revealed that FCA is currently in talks with a couple of electric vehicle (EV) start-ups to help with the development of EV FCA models.
Could this be the answer to all the questions about the probability of a Dodge Viper 2021?
Is an electric Dodge Viper in the works?
The EV-shopping report published on The Verge specifically named Faraday Future and Seres as the brands connected to FCA’s EV project. We can’t help but wonder if FCA is working on a secret project for a new-generation, fully-electric Viper. If you knew how Dodge developed the Viper concept, you wouldn’t think the term “secret project” was crazy. The Viper concept was developed in so much secrecy that when it came out at the Detroit Auto Show in 1989, everyone was astounded—that’s how good FCA is when it comes to surprising the public.
If an electric Viper is indeed the new path for FCA, it might be a rocky one. “Electrifying” a powerful V10/V8-powered sports car may sound like a very bold move, but we’ve seen it done on a Chevy Corvette, so maybe it isn’t that crazy after all. However, we have to say that it’s probably not the case for the Viper because if it is, we would’ve seen it done on the Charger and Challenger by now.
Earlier this year, FCA CEO Mike Manley shared his thoughts about electrification involving the Charger and Challenger. For Manley, electrifying these American muscle cars defeats the idea of what a muscle car is. The same context could apply to the Dodge Viper, which was known for its large and powerful gasoline engine. This crosses out the idea of an electric Viper for now.
We’re still keeping our hopes up for the Dodge Viper 2021
As you may recall, reports came out in 2018 saying the Dodge Viper was slated to make a comeback at this year’s Detroit Auto Show—Car and Driver even dropped the “trust us” line. However, the show came and went, and no one saw even a shadow of the car. What’s bugging everyone is that they were so sure about it and the report was so detailed that there was even an estimated figure for the price. No source was ever mentioned and the articles that sprouted after Car and Driver’s were mostly sourced from the said publication.
What keeps our hopes up despite all the disappointments in the last few years is FCA design chief Ralph Gilles’ statement about the possibility of a new Viper. For him, it’s all about the business case. He said he’s sure that the new Viper will most likely use a different technology, which was a bold statement that was followed with, “it will have to celebrate another step-function. A new thing in technology.” But when asked if the snake would ever return to life, Gilles said, “I think in my lifetime I surely hope so.”
The problem with rumors is they get people’s hopes up—only to end in disappointment. Reviving the Dodge Viper in 2021 is a huge risk that FCA may not be willing to take right now. But if we hang on a little longer and wait for FCA to find the technology Gilles was talking about, we might gaze upon a next-generation Dodge Viper in our lifetime.
Our hopes are still up.
Dodge Viper pic.twitter.com/akc3rxpuJ3
— Carworld (@worldfullofcars) November 6, 2019