Chrysler to Dump Viper? Whoever Has the Most Toys Loses

Last Updated Aug 27, 2008 9:50 PM EDT

dodge_viperIt looks like Chrysler will dump the Dodge Viper, just as GM jettisons Hummer. Ford already sold Aston Martin, Jaguar and Land Rover. It makes you wonder what's next?

Now that Toyota arguably overtook GM as the world's largest automaker last year, maybe it's time for Toyota to admit it has some excess baggage, like the underachieving Scion youth brand, or the bloated Lexus LS 600h L, a hybrid that answers a question no one asked: "Is it possible to have a big luxury sedan with the performance of a V-12, but the gas mileage of a V-8?" The gas mileage of a V-8 is not much of a selling point nowadays.

Toyota should declare victory, announce that it sure learned a lot about youthful car buyers from Scion, which it will now apply to the Toyota brand; plus a lot about environmentally conscious luxury buyers from the LS hybrid, and shelve both of them. In good times, you sometimes hear, "He who dies with the most toys wins." In today's auto industry, he who dies with the most toys is both dead and stupid. The car companies that want to live to fight another day are getting rid of their toys and hobbies as fast as possible, in favor of bread-and-butter franchises.

On Aug. 27, Chrysler Chairman and CEO Bob Nardelli announced that the company would explore "strategic options" for the Dodge Viper. As I've said here before, referring to Hummer, that's the corporate equivalent of offering a blindfold and a cigarette.

Nardelli said unnamed "third parties" expressed an interest in quote-unquote "exploring future possibilities for Viper."

Nardelli's announcement used all the right business buzzwords, like "enhancing core business," "leveraging assets," and "maximize core operations," none of which appears to leave much room at Chrysler for Viper.

Year to date, Viper sales are actually more than double the year-ago period, but that's still only 682 cars this year through July, according to AutoData sales figures. There just aren't very many people today who are looking for a coupe or convertible, from Dodge, that gets 600 hp from an 8.4-liter V-10 engine. The engine in the first Viper, launched in 1992, began life as a huge truck engine.

Compared with 600-hp luxury imports, the Viper really isn't that expensive, at $88,620 suggested retail for the convertible. Maybe somebody can make a go of it â€" provided they're toy specialists, and not mass-marketers with a hobby.