Fiat Chrysler unapologetic about massive horsepower – USA TODAY
They range from the most powerful muscle car ever to sleek pocket rockets.
DETROIT — In an era where the biggest buzz in the automotive industry is about self-driving cars, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has been doubling down on jaw-dropping horsepower.
At the New York Auto Show last month the automaker revealed the Dodge Challenger SRT Demon — an 840-horsepower car better suited for the drag strip than the streets. And the next day? Fiat Chrysler unveiled the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk — an SUV with a 707-horsepower Hellcat engine.
Just two months earlier, at the Chicago Auto Show, Dodge revealed the 2018 Durango SRT. Touted as the “most powerful and capable” three-row SUV, it has a Hemi V-8 that generates 475 horsepower.
Tim Kuniskis, head of Dodge, SRT, Chrysler and Fiat, frequently pokes fun at the industry’s current obsession with self-driving cars when he boasts about Dodge’s stable of high-powered, modern muscle cars.
“They are not autonomous, they are not hybrids, they do not get 50 miles per gallon and you cannot summon them with your smartphone,” Kuniskis quipped last year when the company introduced special edition versions of the Challenger and Charger. “They are domestic, not domesticated.”
The gratuitous display of horsepower at the reveal of the Dodge Demon in New York spawned screaming headline after headline. But it also caused some to question the automaker’s commitment to keeping up with competitors who are plowing money into electric and autonomous vehicles.
Kuniskis, who has emerged as an automotive marketing wizard, said he knows he needs to be careful when he jokes about driverless and electric cars.
“I don’t want to make it sound like we don’t think that the technology is great. We do,” Kuniskis said. “But we (Dodge) also have the luxury of being one brand in a five-brand showroom. And the luxury of saying this is what the Dodge DNA is all about.”
Mike Manley, head of the company’s Jeep and Ram brands, said those who think the automaker is failing to adequately prepare for a future with tougher fuel economy regulations are “completely wrong.”
“I am serious when I say if you look at our group portfolio, we’ve demonstrated that we have the technology,” Manley said last month. “We have very detailed plans in terms of when we are rolling out. You will progressively see, as we get to the 2020s, more and more electrification really across a very broad part of the vehicle portfolio.”
Manley and other Fiat Chrysler executives point out that the Auburn Hills automaker just began shipping its Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan — a plug-in hybrid that goes 84 miles on a full charge. Indeed, analysts have praised the company for developing a vehicle that truly benefits from an alternative powertrain.
Fiat Chrysler just announced an expanded relationship with Waymo, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet, to supply the tech giant with 500 more Pacifica Hybrid minivans that will be converted into self-driving vehicles.
Also, Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne told Wall Street analysts last month that the automaker has the capability to produce the Chrysler Portal — a semi-autonomous electric minivan it revealed in January — within the next two years.
Still, Fiat Chrysler’s future plans for hybrid and electric cars and autonomous vehicles are far less specific than its crosstown rivals.
Ford has said it plans spend $4.5 billion to launch 13 new hybrid or electric vehicles over the next four years and also has said it expects to begin selling a fully autonomous vehicle by 2021.
General Motors expects to spend about $150 million per quarter, or $600 million this year, in autonomous vehicle development. GM began testing self-driving Chevrolet Bolt electric cars in Michigan in December and will build the next-generation autonomous Bolt EV at its Orion Assembly Plant.
Stephanie Brinley, senior analyst for IHS Markit, said Fiat Chrysler’s slower approach to self-driving cars might turn out OK as long as the automaker remains poised to catch up quickly when the market begins to develop.
“You may be able to make the case for that not being a problem,” Brinley said. “You don’t necessarily have to be first to be successful.”
To some degree, Fiat Chrysler is still suffering from its years of minimal product investment into new cars and trucks in the 2000s and the extensive restructuring that was necessary as the American and Italian automakers merged into a single company.
“Part of this is about making the best of the products you have at the moment,” said Brinley.
For example, the Dodge Demon, despite its high-tech engine, is deployed into a platform for the Challenger that hasn’t been overhauled in nearly a decade.
At the same time, Brinley gives the automaker credit for carrying out a vision set out by the automaker several years ago to turn Dodge into a performance brand.
“They have done a really good job of changing the image of that brand,” Brinley said.
For Dodge, the emphasis on horsepower is a way to make the brand stand out from the crowd.
“There are two ends of the spectrum right now. There is a conversation about alternative powertrains — electric cars, plug-in hybrids, even fuel cells for that matter, and autonomy,” Kuniskis said. “The other end of the spectrum is performance.”
Performance — the off-road kind — is equally important for the Jeep brand.
Manley continues to say a hybrid Jeep would be possible but is careful not to make a clear commitment on the models under consideration or the possible timing.
The key for Jeep, Manley said, is marrying the fuel economy benefits of a hybrid with the power and immediate torque that you can get from hybrid powertrains.
“There is no doubt in my mind that for Jeep, electrification not only gives our customers better MPGe, but also does have a capability story as well,” Manley said. “So you can imagine that if you have portfolio vehicles like FCA has … Jeep is clearly a target. And even a Wrangler.”
The automaker is planning to launch the 2018 Jeep Wrangler next year. The automaker also is planning to revive the Jeep Wagoneer nameplate.
“So for sure (hybrid) is part of the product plan and we are excited about it,” Manley said.