One of Chrysler Corporation’s new breed of dashing young executives was in Miami recently to address the monthly meeting of the South Florida Automotive Media Association and he told the group that his company has some great new vehicles in the pipeline for the American consumer.
Speaking to SAMA board members gathered for lunch in Miami Beach on the sixth floor of the new and stunningly beautiful 1111 Lincoln Road parking garage, Ralph Gilles — who is the president and CEO of Dodge and also serves as the vice president of design for Chrysler Corporation – said today’s car companies are going to find themselves locked in a “knife fight” for market share.
“We (Chrysler) have some great things (vehicles) in store that are coming and will help round out our portfolio,” said Gilles. “But it’s going to be an interesting knife fight out there because everybody’s car portfolio is going to meet head on; everyone’s going to have a small car, everyone’s going to have a medium car, everyone’s got a luxury brand. So the ones that win will be the ones with the brand that actually mean something to people.”
Gilles conceded that all of the U.S. companies are turning out good vehicles today and the industry has become intensely competitive.
“The American car companies are building some really good cars right now,” he said. “We know internally that we are seeing huge strides in quality. And that’s reflected at our dealers where the average dealer is basically doing maintenance work and not warranty work; a very steep drop in warranty claims.”
Gilles told the auto writers that Chrysler’s partnership with Italian car company Fiat is progressing very well.
“It’s phenomenal,” he said. “We’re well underway, we’re almost two years into it now and the transparency is incredible. The back and forth exchange between engineers is great. We’re already doing commingle projects. The Fiat 500 is being built in Mexico, engineered by Americans for this market. The engine is being built in Dundee, Michigan. So, it’s happening, real time!”
Gilles also said Chrysler has not been left behind in the development of an electric car and has one in development that will be on the market by the end of 2012.
“Electric vehicles make sense, but the vehicle demand has to be right,” he said. “The thing about electric powertrains is that they are very scaleable, very easy to move around. So we’re going to use the Fiat 500, it’s the perfect donor; it’s a very low energy-demand type of vehicle and it’s very efficient. All the work that we did the last three years (on electric vehicle technology) is not going to waste and it will be out in less than two years. It’s well under way.”
Flanked by six new 2011 Dodge vehicles – a Charger, a Challenger, an Avenger, a Caravan, a Journey and a Durango — Gilles told SAMA members that Chrysler and Dodge have redefined their marketing strategy after coming out of bankruptcy and are focusing on a more youthful buyer.
“The new younger buyer is somewhat unpolluted,” he said. “Their mindset has yet to be formed. We do okay with our loyalty in terms of our current buyers, we’re kind of growing with them; but it’s time to fish in fresh waters, basically.”
Gilles also said that auto racing fits well with Dodge’s marketing strategy.
“We make rear-drive, V-8 powered vehicles and that’s what we race,” he said. “So we’re one of the few auto makers that actually build what we race. And it’s hard to ignore the reach that NASCAR has. Eight-and-a-half million people watch every weekend, so you’ve gotta be there. If you’re not, you’re almost suspiciously absent, especially for a brand like ours, which is all about performance.”