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Dodge plans new Ferrari-inspired Viper

Snake attack: Current Dodge Viper appears set to be replaced in 2012 by an all-new model developed with Ferrari.

Fiat chief unveils brave new Dodge product plan to US dealers, led by a new Viper

21 Sep 2010

FIAT CEO Sergio Marchionne last week revealed an all-new Ferrari-inspired Dodge Viper to stunned North American dealers as part of his company’s ambitious new model revolution for the Chrysler Group.

Mr Marchionne told the Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge dealers the car would be delivered to select showrooms in 2012.

While Dodge’s updated 2011 Caliber and Nitro models are already on sale in Australia, Chrysler’s ‘lifestyle’ brand last week also committed to releasing an all-new Durango, an all-new Charger and “significantly redesigned” versions of its Journey, Avenger and Challenger models in the US by early next year.

As we’ve reported, Chrysler Australia is working on a plan to introduce the full-size Durango SUV here for the first time, but confirmation of an all-new Charger sedan for the US by early 2011 could also lead to its introduction locally, if it is built in right-hand drive.

41 center imageFrom top: Dodge Charger Pursuit, Dodge Durango, Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione.

Dodge revealed a new ‘Charger Pursuit’ police vehicle for the US two weeks ago, but an all-new model sharing its underpinnings with the all-new 300 large sedan due to emerge from Chrysler this year could provide the Dodge brand, which was relaunched here in 2006, with its first large sedan in Australia.

“Dodge Charger is not currently available in right-hand drive, but is a model that we continue to actively pursue for our market,” Chrysler Australia spokesman Dean Bonthorne told GoAuto.

The facelifted Journey people-mover is certain to come Down Under next year, but the local future remains uncertain for the brand’s facelifted Avenger medium sedan (a slow-selling model that was axed from the Australian Dodge range in August) and upgraded Challenger coupe (which has been confirmed to receive two new powertrains in the US by early 2011).

As part of the product-led resurgence it plans to make under Fiat control, Dodge last November promised to release 11 redesigned or heavily revised Dodge models by 2014, including a mid-sized sedan to replace the Avenger and, for the North American market, a small sedan.

At the time, Dodge CEO Ralph Gilles also revealed that a sportscar that draws from Fiat’s Maserati and Ferrari brands was under development and expected on sale in 2012.

Mr Marchionne presented the 2012 Viper at a private Chrysler dealer conference in Orlando last Tuesday, when the troubled US car-maker held its first national dealer announcement show since 2007.

After presenting a range of future models from Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge – including a production version of the tray-backed Jeep Wrangler pick-up concept – Mr Marchionne surprised dealers by unveiling the shape of the next-generation Viper.

The Wall Street Journal has quoted dealers who attended the event as saying the next Viper’s exterior design – featuring all-new bodywork painted 25 times in candy-apple red – is “aggressive” and departs from the current model’s rear-cabbed racecar look by emerging as a more traditional sportscar.

Some dealers, who were told the Viper’s product team had unanimously approved the design within just five minutes of seeing it, said the vehicle resembled the limited-edition Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione with a Viper face.

The all-new Viper is expected to be powered by an 8.4-litre V10 engine with Fiat’s innovative Multiair induction technology, although an entry-level V8 engine may also be offered.

In the hour-long presentation to about 75 percent of Chrysler’s 2314 dealers, representing about 90 percent of the group’s US sales volume, plans were also revealed for an eight-speed automatic transmission for rear-drive vehicles to emerge from 2012.

This would be followed by a nine-speed automatic for front-drive vehicles, and both transmissions were said to be adaptable to all-wheel and hybrid drive systems.

The fourth-generation Viper ended production at Chrysler’s Conner Avenue assembly plant in Detroit on July 1. The Viper was first launched in 1992.

“There are times when you are given the opportunity to give life to something which is so beautiful and unique, so just and equitable, that you pay a lot less attention to the numbers, to the financial reality that surrounds it,” Automotive News reported Mr Marchionne as saying at the end of his presentation.

“They happen only rarely. In my case, three times in more than 15 years as chief executive.”

Mr Marchionne said he and Mr Gilles, who is also chief of design for all Chrysler brands, had deliberated over the future of the Viper for some time before making a decision.

“We had been debating this particular nameplate for a long time, and every time I just could not get there. And then one morning the product committee went into the dome and saw it, and we all knew we were in front of something magic, unique.

“It took less than five minutes for the committee to fund the initiative. Not a negative comment, not a remark, not a single question.”

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