Calling out Hennessey’s absurdityPosted: January 10, 2012
I first learned of Hennessey Performance Engineering (HPE) as a kid when my ultimate dream car was the Dodge Viper. Back then they made the baddest Viper around, the 800 Twin Turbo, and it took the spot at the top of my wish list for a time. Since then, HPE continues to build the craziest Vipers around, and has branched out to build modifications for many other types of cars as well. They have made quite a name for themselves in the aftermarket industry, surely as one of the best in the business. Recently though, they released their first car of their own, the Venom GT, and this is where I started to see some issues that needed to be called out.
The two cars I will discuss here are the Venom GT and the Jeep HPE800, and I want to first acknowledge that HPE’s build quality on each model is fantastic. My problem lies in the absolutely outrageous prices they want for each of these cars, there seems to be an excessive markup placed on them that is far more than warranted.
Lets start with the Jeep HPE800. In a nutshell it is a Jeep SRT-8 that has a twin turbo kit installed along with the necessary supporting modifications to other parts like the transmission, an aftermarket suspension, Brembo brake kit, a light body kit, and some alcantara bits in the interior. HPE wants $235,000 for this 800hp Jeep, and I’m sorry but it is not even worth half of that. Using a rough knowledge of the cost of the parts, I would be willing to bet a very similar 800hp Jeep could be custom fabricated for under $100 thousand easily (including the cost of the Jeep). Also remember, as far as image goes, you are still driving a Jeep; nothing that fancy, and definitely not $235k fancy. Even with the 800hp setup, it will always be just a modified SRT-8, putting you one rung above a stock SRT-8 owner, and still quite a few rungs below the housewife driving her kids to practice in a Porsche Cayenne Turbo. So, you are getting nothing at all for the extra $135k you spend (assuming 100k for a similar Jeep at a normal shop).
Now for the Venom GT: It would seem that HPE looked around and thought “every other 1000hp supercar costs a million dollars, so why shouldn’t ours?” That’s right people, the Venom GT is seven figures, so of course it must be a totally unique, bespoke machine that uses nothing but the most exotic parts, right? Wrong. It is basically a stretched Lotus Elise with a Chevy crate motor V8 that has a twin turbo setup. It uses the transmission from a Ford GT (that cost $150k new, not a million like this), a Brembo brake kit, and custom suspension. Now I will say that HPE put a solid amount of engineering into the Venom GT, they really did, and I have heard the car drives amazing. There is much more than that though to a million dollar car though, it must be unique in all regards, something truly special. Whereas the Venom GT still looks like a Lotus Elise at first glance, and uses parts bin pieces in its build, it just is not worth that much money (maybe half of what they ask at most).
HPE, of course, compares the Venom GT to the legendary Bugatti Veyron. They really want it to be in the same league, but it can never be. You see, the Bugatti is the most highly engineered automobile ever produced. Everything about it was made especially for it alone, and for its purpose. No expense was spared at all in the making of the Veyron, and because of that anyone can drive one and be perfectly safe (unlike the Venom). It is a masterpiece of engineering, much more than something that “just works”. Looking at things from a price perspective, HPE has will likely net an absurd profit on each Venom GT they sell because the sum of the car’s parts is clearly far less than its price. Bugatti (VW), on the other hand, loses over $1 million on each Veyron sold because the sum of its parts was so high, with most parts being made special for the Veyron alone. The Venom GT is just not on the same level, regardless of how fast it can go. Making a car fast is easy, and is not what makes a supercar cost so much money. There are 800hp Evos out there that can smoke a Lamborghini, but that does not make them worth the same $400 grand; the same goes here for HPE’s cars.
I’ve always been a fan of HPE, they do many things very well, but here they are overstepping their bounds with what they have offered. I am not saying they can’t be a world-class supercar maker, but I am saying that what they have done so far doesn’t cut it. If they want to improve things they can start by designing their own bodies for their cars like Saleen did with their S7 supercar. This will at least make it so people won’t mistake someone’s $1million Venom GT for a $40k Lotus Elise, or a $235k Jeep for a $45k Jeep; vein yes, but it matters at this price point. They need to make their cars much more “special” if they want to charge so much money because that is what people pay top dollar for. Going fast is easy, and relatively cheap, it is the exclusive, and specific identity mixed with a level of refinement in purpose that people pay vast amounts to have. As of now, HPE cars of all types still have the flavor of aftermarket, modified cars, and that cannot command such high prices. I want to see HPE continue to grow, but it seems the next step should be a reality check of some sort.