Dodge Viper in demand

January 19, 1992|By Jim Mateja | Jim Mateja,Chicago Tribune

In a turn of events, it's the stars going ga-ga in la-la-land.

Jay Leno, Eddie Murphy and James Garner all want one, and David Letterman even sent Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca a deposit check to reserve one.

What they all want is a Dodge Viper, a two-seat, plastic-bodied sports car powered by a 400-horsepower, 8-liter V-10 engine teamed with a six-speed manual transmission. And it comes only in red.

So high is the demand, and so low will be the availability, the car will be an instant status symbol. Yet Letterman's check was returned, and it wasn't because it was for only $20, officials said.

"No priority will be given even if they call Lee (as Murphy and Leno did). We aren't going to play favorites with dealers getting the cars to sell or with customers getting the car to buy," said Martin Levine, Dodge division general manager.

"People think if they aren't a friend of Lee's they won't get a Viper. That's not the case," Mr. Levine said.

And if Lee wants a Viper?

"He'll have to buy one at fair-market value; that's company policy," Mr. Levine said.

The reason for the interest in Viper and why more than 5,000 letters asking priority treatment have been sent to Chrysler by would-be buyers is that only 200 will be available for the 1992 model year. That's 200 cars among 3,000 Dodge dealers and already 5,000 consumer requests.

The car will be distributed in California first, then on the East Coast and lastly in the Midwest.

The Viper will start at $50,000. With the 10 percent luxury tax on the amount exceeding $30,000 and with a gas-guzzler tax because the car gets only about 18.5 miles per gallon, the car should run about $55,000.

But the selling price could far exceed the sticker price.

Though Chrysler said it won't play favorites and even has had its staff of lawyers reviewing the most equitable means of distribution, W. W. Anderson, Dodge marketing-plans manager, said if a dealer wants to charge $100,000 for the $50,000 cars or charge $5,000 just to allow a potential customer to move up on the dealer's priority list, "There's nothing Chrysler can do about it, because these are independent businessmen.

"We realize some people will want to be the first on the block with a new car, but we don't want to mislead the public about potential values, because sharp escalation of values hasn't been the case with other recent exotic cars such as the Acura NSX or the Corvette ZR1. Dealers were selling them for well over list when they first came out but now are selling them near list," Mr. Anderson said.

"If the car isn't for everyone, fine, I'm not going to rationalize any of its shortcomings versus the Corvette," he said.

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