Dodge CEO Tim Kuniskis on the Transition to Electric

By Gary S. Vasilash

Perhaps more controversial than Dylan going electric in 1965. . .

If you think about “Dodge,” you have a pretty good idea of what it is: A lineup of muscle cars. It is a brand that has pared itself down to an essence, as things like the Journey and Caravan have gone away, leaving the bulk of the brand on the shoulders of two vehicles, the Charger and the Challenger. (The Durango is still in the showroom.)

The positioning of the brand is unapologetically the “Brotherhood of Muscle,” although all genders are encompassed within the club.

Dodge Charger Daytona SRT Concept: Dodge goes electric. (Image: Dodge)

One might think that this whole muscle car thing is an anachronism. HEMI engines don’t seem to a thing that would resonate in the age of Greta Thunberg.

However, in the first half of 2022, Dodge outsold Chrysler, Fiat and Alfa Romeo combined: 84,761 to 73,010.

There is a defined niche of buyers for whom muscle cars matter. And they buy them.

Although the platform underpinning the Charger and Challenger is, by contemporary standards, vintage, the people at Dodge have kept things going by introducing special editions and packages for the cars (e.g., the SCAT Pack Swinger, a tribute to the late ‘60s and early ‘70s).

Tim Kuniskis is the CEO of Dodge. And on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” he explains how Dodge will keep being propelled forward with cars even though he admits “cars are dead”—albeit dead for those who don’t necessarily consider their vehicles to be a representative of who they are. The Brotherhood of Muscle knows what matters to them and prove it every day.

Still, Kuniskis and his team are fully aware that the market is changing, moving away from HEMIs to electric propulsion.

So rather than pretending that it is otherwise, they have rolled out with “Last Call” editions of the Charger and Challenger and revealed the bad-ass battery electric Charger Daytona SRT Concept.

They are putting the proverbial pedal to the metal as they drive toward an electric future.

As Kuniskis points out in the show, people who drive muscle cars think somewhat differently than ordinary car consumers.

For example, do you think someone with a supercharged 6.2-liter HEMI Hellcat high-output V8 under the hood—a 797 hp or 807-hp engine, depending on package—is at all concerned with the fact that they may get a combined mpg of 15? Given that, what is the likelihood that someone getting an electric muscle car is going to be concerned whether the range is 300+ miles or a fraction of that—as long as the car moves like a bat-out-of-hell (which explains why the propulsion system in the concept is named “Banshee”)?

Ordinary EV buyers are largely concerned about range. Dodge EV buyers will focus on performance. (OK: some of them will be concerned with range, but they’re going to want to make sure that their cars seem to be hellacious performers.)

Kuniskis talks about the present and the future of Dodge with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Chris Paukert of Edmunds, Mike Musto of Hemmings and me.

Even if you aren’t particularly interested in muscle cars per se it is a fascinating look at how a brand that is as intensely focused on one segment as Dodge can make a transition to a different technology model without disaffecting its customer base.

One can imagine that the Dodge switch to an electric future will become a business school case study, which you can learn about now, for free, here.

Why 2021 May Be the Year EVs Really Started to Matter

No, this is not predicated on some prognostication wrapped in a Tweet by Elon Musk, nor by the potential that Syd Mead fans may actually get their Cybertruck before the end of 2021.

No, this is not predicated on Joe Biden’s plan recommendation to transform the government’ fleet of ~650,000 vehicles from gasoline and diesel to electric as part of the “Buy American” initiative.

Merchants Fleet has ordered 12,600 BrightDrop EV600s, an all-new, electric light commercial vehicle purpose-built for the delivery of goods and services over long ranges. (Image: GM)

No, this is not even predicated on GM CEO Mary Barra’s statement last week that the vehicle manufacturer intends to become completely (i.e., product and process) carbon-neutral by 2040, including an “aspiration” to eliminate tailpipe emissions by 2035.

No, this is because of three other data points that all came out on the same day this week, all of which indicate that electric vehicles are taking on some significant substance.

1

BrightDrop Gets Second Order

BrightDrop, the company that GM recently established for business deliveries that is predicated on EVs and logistics software, has obtained an order for 12,600 BrightDrop EV600s, from Merchants Fleet, a company that describes itself as “the nation’s fastest growing fleet management company.” Deliveries of the EV600, a light commercial vehicle with some 600 cubic feet of cargo capacity and a range of up to 250 miles, are to start in 2023. The first customer for the trucks is FedEx. The importance of cargo vehicles for EVs can’t be overstated. Not only has Amazon invested a few hundred million in Rivian, but it has ordered 100,000 electric trucks, with deliveries starting later this year.

2

Edmunds Declares “Pivotal Year”

“After years of speculation and empty promises, 2021 is actually shaping up to be a pivotal year for growth in the EV sector. We’re not only about to see a massive leap in the number of EVs available in the market; we’re also going to see a more diverse lineup of electric vehicles that better reflect current consumer preferences.” That’s Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds’ executive director of insights. While the projected growth of EV retail sales is still small—according to Edmunds, they were 1.9% in 2020 and are expected to reach just 2.5% of the market in 2021—the firm anticipates that the greater number of available products in 2021, 30 vehicles including 13 SUVs and six trucks, should start making a big difference.

3

EY Sees “Massive Evolution” in Transport

“Electrifying transport is critical for Europe to meet its tough emissions targets and create a decarbonized future. Transitioning fleet first will pave the way and generate new commercial opportunities, including vehicle-to-grid and electric vehicle charging solutions among others. In order to achieve this, a fleet-centric approach is needed across both government and industry, which aims to remove barriers in areas including common standards and investment,” says Serge Colle, EY Global Power & Utilities Leader. While he is specifically talking about Europe, where the CO2 emissions standards are demanding and becoming more so, the focus on fleets (think things like EV600) is key because as EY research indicates: “the lessons learned from accelerating fleet electrification such as the development of sustainable business models that support charging infrastructure investment and integration of smart charging capability, will enable the wider secondary and passenger vehicle market to transition quicker.” First the fleet. Then the driveway.–gsv