Car-Losophy: Is now the time for a Hybrid Viper?
Oh boy, this definitely won't be popular...
I imagine this article (and definitely the headline) will piss off many Viper-faithfuls (and as someone who is in that camp, I don't exactly relish the idea myself). “The Viper has to be an NA, big-block V10! Otherwise it's not a Viper anymore” is what you're probably typing right now, “giving in to the hybridization trend we're seeing will make the car lose its soul otherwise” I bet someone else is typing at this very moment. It's no secret that part of what made the Viper special was its rawness, its back-to-basics approach to performance. Few cars from big automakers got close to the kind of modern-day-Cobra experience the Viper gave you (as intended), and that's why I and many others love the car. In a world where cars were and are becoming more computerized and disconnected, the Viper stood tall as the antithesis to this direction of efficiency and ease over thrills and earned adrenaline.
But with the rapidly growing pace of technology (and increases in environment protecting regulations), you can only hold on to a certain amount of rawness for oh so long. The Viper has always dragged its feet when it came to adapting to new technology. First it was a few creature comforts, then it was ABS, and then it was Traction Control, Stability Control, Cruise Control, and Launch Control. At each of those stages the Viper did –eventually– adopt the bare minimum technology commonly offered in cars of the time, and now I'm thinking we're at yet another moment where –if we do get a new Viper– it will have to, as Ralph Gilles put it, “celebrate” a modern technology.
As it turns out, someone in Chrysler was actually ahead of the curve in this regard. This is what they proposed...
KERS In a Viper.
KERS Photo Credit: Volvo
While not a traditional “hybrid” (especially not in relation to the hybrid performance cars we have today), this idea still would have required batteries that could expel electricity which then would've been used to boost engine performance, effectively doing what hybrid super and hypercars do now but slightly differently. Ian Sharp (the man behind this plan) had a lot of radical ideas for this new-gen Viper, chief among which was making a “lower-end” V8 model with the KERS –to match the output of a V10-equipped car– and a normal V10 model that would've been higher-priced and higher end. The idea was that the V8 + KERS was the bare-bones racer, and the V10 was the nice interior, “soft” model. He even planned to take the Viper further than that, but that information is a little besides the point, so check out this article on Allpar to read more about that (and more specifics regarding the technical side of his proposal). In the end though, his proposal was rejected and Chrysler executives decided to re-engineer the Gen 4 Viper instead.
Had they not rejected this idea, Chrysler would've been well ahead of the Hybridization-curve when it came to performance cars, and it would've been a very different Viper from the ones we got previously. A potential game-changer (like the original RT/10) for Chrysler and certainly a game-changer for the auto industry for performance cars as it was back in 2012-2013 (roughly when the car could've finished development assuming all went smoothly). However...
I'm glad they did reject it.
(That's not the actual V8 Hybrid, that's an eTorque HEMI)
As I said at the beginning, I'm a Viper-purist. Not so much that I complained when they added cruise control, traction control, and stability control on the Gen 5, but enough of a purist that I'm not keen on the idea of a techno-festooned Viper. To me (and many), that's going against the very principles that made the car what it was, and going along with everyone else turns the Viper into something else entirely. Sort of like the difference between a Viper and an R35 GT-R, or perhaps the difference between the Porsche 959 and the Ferrari F40.
I'm of the opinion that there was one last good generation to be had out of using the old Viper formula. Hybrid technology for road-going performance cars hadn't come into their own yet (this would've been around 2010) and what the Viper really needed was more forgiving handling (though not excessively so) and a MUCH improved interior, not hybrid-assistance. This, thankfully, is what we got with the Gen 5 Viper when it came out in 2013. While the “Ian Viper” might've impressed magazines and bench-racers, I tend to believe the Gen 5 we got was what the enthusiasts wanted. A more powerful, easier to drive (thanks to the electronic safety nets), better-furnished car that was still unmistakably Viper. A near-perfect update from a conceptual standpoint.
Moreover, as I said above, hybrid powertrains for performance applications didn't exist until roughly 2013 (with the BMW i3), and certainly not until 2014 for serious performance cars like the LaFerrari, 918, and P1. All of which were hilariously expensive (they would've been no matter what but the batteries have to be included in that cost). Good batteries just weren't cheap. While the Viper wouldn't have been able to run on an electric-only mode like the 918 and the P1, creating and or finding batteries that could handle long track day sessions without taking an eternity to charge at the end of one (or take an eternity to be replenished with the regenerative braking) not only would've been difficult, but cost a lot of money to implement/produce.
Mind you, I'm not saying it would've been impossible. Porsche managed it with the 918 after all, however, there's no denying that the cost of having a system like this (and an effective one for track use at that) would not have been cheap by any means.
Then we have to talk about effectiveness. The 918 had the benefit of a significantly bigger budget to get the hybrid powertrain right, and the benefit of coming along a little bit later (giving Porsche slightly better technology to play with). We won't ever know the effectiveness of the Ian Viper because it never came to be, but I'd have to wonder just how well the system would work at the Viper's price point (assuming you could keep a Viper like this under $170K). Not only that, but there are different types of effectiveness to consider here. It isn't just that we need to consider performance effectiveness, but we also need to consider charging/regeneration effectiveness, and also effectiveness at the track (this is not the same as performance effectiveness and I'll explain why shortly).
(In this section, keep this in mind: I'm assuming that a High Output variant of the KERS system would add around 200 or more horsepower, and the Low Output system would only add around 30 to 110 more horsepower. The added weight would amount to around 100 to 300 more pounds).
For performance effectiveness, this would be the strongest case for a hybridized Viper in my opinion. Look at the Hellcat V8s, FCA (now Stellantis) has done a great job of gradually –and not so gradually– increasing the horsepower over the years. From 707, to 808 (840 with race fuel), then down to 797, then 717, and now 807 with the Hemi Super Stock. Unlike the Viper's V10, Dodge has proven the Hellcat engine is far easier to squeeze power out of, and I'd imagine a V8 with hybrid assistance would be much the same story. For sheer stats and numbers, this is the best argument for a hybridized Viper.
With charging and regeneration, things don't look quite as good. We need to keep in mind that we're aiming for a Viper that should be less than $200K, and the time of development is around 2012-2014. At that point in time, the only other car that I can think of that had regenerative braking outside of racing was the Prius C. The Prius C (among other things) used regenerative braking to get a claimed 54 MPG city. Very few –if any– road cars had regenerative braking for performance purposes. While a wild idea and certainly would've made headlines, I feel that compromises would've been necessary to meet price targets (as in less than $200K). Given the technology of the time and the price target, I think Dodge would've had two options for a KERS Viper: Either give the batteries more capacity but less total output, or have more total output but less capacity. The latter would be troublesome because you'd have a great amount of boost for (at best) one lap but then you'd spend the next 1-2 laps trying to regenerate the batteries (and those might not even be fast regen laps). This is what happened to Randy Pobst when he drove the Porsche 918 at Laguna Seca a while back. In “Hero Lap” mode, he could only do one lap at full pace, and then he had to take a warm recovery lap to regain charge (because the 918 didn't regenerate energy in this mode). Whether the Ian Viper would have a recovery system that quick is up for debate, but that'd certainly be a feat for a car under $200K.
That would mean you couldn't go all out for even 2 laps. You'd only get one shot at a great lap, and then you'd have to take a regen lap if you wanted to go for the gold another time. Not good for back-to-back 10/10s lapping sessions. Certainly not good if you mess up the lap and have to wait till the start-finish straight to have another go at a full-pace lap.
In the former scenario, it's hard to believe the added weight of the batteries plus the reduced output of the system wouldn't negate the benefit of the added power (especially at reduced levels). They're losing performance in a few areas (handling, acceleration to an extent, and power-to-weight ratio), to gain in one area (acceleration). Something that can be improved in an unassisted car by just reducing the weight of the car, making the power it does have more potent anyway. In a sense, it seems like they're saving a penny where they're spending a dollar.
Think of it this way: Supercharged engines have to use horsepower in order to make the supercharger work (because the supercharger is driven by a belt that connects to the rest of the engine). So it takes horsepower to make more horsepower. In a similar sense, Dodge would be losing acceleration because of the weight of the batteries and then gaining more acceleration through the boost of the KERS system. In the same way superchargers offset the power needed to run them by giving you more total output, Dodge would be hoping to have more total acceleration even if the batteries would reduce the initial punch without the help of boost. In a setup with more total output but less capacity, this might be a worthwhile trade-off, but in the opposite setup? I'm not so sure.
We've seen time and time again how little cars like Ariel Atoms, Caterham 7s, BAC Monos, and the like can keep up with far more expensive and complicated machinery because they're bare-bones and weigh less than post-snap dehydrated-prune-looking Thanos. A lot of them only have around 300-ish horsepower, but they don't bog that 300 horsepower down with 4000 pounds of weight to push either. In that same vein, wouldn't it be better to go with the naturally aspirated setup? Perhaps the lack of added heft would give you equivalent grunt? I tend to believe so.
Obviously outright power can't be completely ignored, but the KERS system would need enough power to offset the weight disadvantage, and the high output variant has the best chance of doing that in my opinion. Given the reduced capacity though, that leads us neatly into another segment where I don't think the hybrid route bodes well...
Photo Credit: FCA/Stellantis
Given what we just discussed (and likely belabored), it's safe to say the less powerful version of the system probably wouldn't be chosen over the NA car, so let's talk about track effectiveness regarding the more powerful version of the KERS system. As stated earlier, the biggest downside to this system is that (in a similar “hero lap” mode) you'd only get one good lap out of the batteries before needing to slow down on the next lap purely to regen the batteries. This means that back-to-back qualifying pace laps are out of the question, and we don't even know if this KERS system would be able to fully recover in one good regeneration lap. It might take a lap and a half or even two for it to reach full capacity again.
For one lap you would definitely be faster than the NA car, but the moment you run out of charge (and need to regenerate said charge) is the moment where the NA car would regain superiority. It might not have the outright pace of the hybrid car, but it can certainly sustain its pace for a longer period of time, something track rats are very keen on.
Not only that, but owners looking for more power would be better off with the NA car as well. They'd have less weight, and fewer complexities to navigate. Adding power would be as simple as a heads and cam kit, upgraded valvetrain, more compression, or other power amplifiers common to enthusiasts who do a lot of track days. And with that added power and less inherent weight, they'd have a faster car than an equally powerful hybrid one (thanks to, say it with me y'all, lightness). While the NA car would lose out on performance and lap time from the factory compared to its hybrid sibling, it would definitely come good in the aftermarket department. In other words, the NA car would have the last laugh depending on how owner's who track the car decide to mod it.
This is why, out of the two possible outcomes, I think the Gen 5 Viper we got was the enthusiast's car. Dodge even sacrificed in this manner when it came to working on the engine. While looking for pistons, the engine-yodas who were in charge of the Gen 5's engine decided to go with forged pistons. Not because it gave them more power (they actually lost 3-4 horsepower), but because forged pistons are good when the going gets force-induced. They knew some of their customers would want even more power and decided to go for stronger pistons so that tuners and owners would have one less thing to worry about (obviously up to a point).
With all that said, there's still one last thing we need to acknowledge: The Ian Viper was meant to have a V8 plus a hybrid so it could deliver “V10-like power”. Well how much power would the V8 on its own make? I'd imagine the V8 wouldn't have made what the Gen 5 V10 made on its own, so how much of a power deficit would it have when making power by itself? I personally believe it would've made anywhere between 570 and 590 horsepower. Not a low amount by any means (obviously), but still not as much as the Viper we got. If a serious trackrat were to modify the Ian Viper, I would think they'd remove the hybrid system and find ways to get more power out of the V8 itself. In that situation, they'd be at a disadvantage because the V8 doesn't make as much power without assistance. Perhaps they'd have a lighter car (because the V8 would undoubtedly weigh less than the monstrous V10), but that would only be the case after the removal of the hybrid system. We haven't (and won't) even touched on what it might take to remove the hybrid system!
All of that is why I'm glad they did reject going that route with the (then) next-gen Viper. The one we got, to me, was the one best suited for enthusiasts. Better still, it was the route that best kept to the Viper mythos. Fixing some of the shortcomings, rounding off others, all while retaining the things that made the Viper so unique. As stated earlier, a perfect update from a conceptual standpoint.
However, is now the time to brush aside tradition and embrace change?
Photo Credit: FCA/Stellantis
Look around: A rapidly increasing number of performance cars are becoming hybrids. Serious machinery like the Lamborghini Sian, Ferrari SF90, the upcoming Mercedes Project One, a lot of Aston Martin's upcoming mid-engine offerings, and the Mclaren Speedtail all have hybrid powertrains. Worse still, a lot of our “sacred cows” aren't above the occasional rumors of going hybrid either. Cars like the 911 have had this rumor for a while, and even the C8 or C9 Corvette could go this route. Even the Maserati MC20 is supposed to have a hybrid version sometime in the future. Regardless of how you or I feel about this, the fact of the matter is that the industry has got the hybrid-bug (though thankfully for cool cars and not just Prius alternatives). It's not hard to believe that in order to be competitive, you must use some kind of hybrid powertrain.
Tough part is, this might actually be the case. Unless you're going to go the way of the new TVR Griffith but with more power, or perhaps even more extreme in the way of a Caterham 620R, it's hard not to feel like you must go with a hybrid powertrain if you want to compete with the likes of the Sian, SF90, MC20, a hybrid 911, and so on. That is to say, unless you're going to begin a lightness war, it's hard not to think switching to some form of hybrid propulsion isn't the answer.
As I've said twice now, I don't relish this idea. Would I have loved to see the Ian Viper materialize? Yes. Would I have liked to see it replace the current Viper mythos? No, and I still wouldn't now in all honesty. I wish Chrysler did decide to make it, but not at the expense of losing the Gen 5 as we know it.
We did get the Gen 5 as we know it though. The perfect update to the Gen 4 we all wanted did come to pass and thank god for that, but because it did maybe now it's time to be more experimental. Maybe now it's time to take the Viper not just in a slightly different direction, but in a radically different one. Hybrid technology for performance applications is way better than they were a decade ago, even 8 or 7 years ago. Some of the drawbacks I laid out earlier could either be reduced or (nearly) completely eliminated! A sub $200K hybrid Viper could be genuinely viable on the track (and not just for one lap).
Better still, the market having more cars like this around means that outliers aren't going to be plentiful, so it wouldn't be as much of a risk in that regard. With that said, it would still be risky due to the likelihood of pissing off the Viper-faithfuls, so it's not exactly the path of least resistance...
Nevertheless, this new path can't be ignored. If Dodge wants the Viper to reclaim its crown as top dog for performance then going hybrid seems to be the easiest and most realistic way to do it. When you think about it like that... it's very easy to believe that now is the right time for a hybridized Viper, that now is the right time for Ian's vision of a next-gen Viper to finally come to fruition...
What do you think though? Is it finally time for the Viper to embrace the future rather than celebrate the past? Let me know what you think down in the comments below! I hope you enjoyed this long article, I'll see you all next time.
Originally posted on Cody's Car Conundrum on 1/22/2021,