Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Talking Viper, Ram, and SRT’s Future With Ralph Gilles – 2013 New York

Talking Viper, Ram, and SRT’s Future With Ralph Gilles – 2013 New York New York is a big auto show for Chrysler. Making their debuts are the updated 2014 Dodge Durango, the Laguna Seca-leading SRT Viper TA, and the controversial new 2014 Jeep Cherokee. Between the debuts, we caught up with SRT chief and senior VP of design for the Chrysler group, Ralph Gilles, to talk about SRT’s future, the next-generation Hemi, and the evolution of Chrysler design.What’s the future of SRT look like?

Talking Viper, Ram, and SRT’s Future With Ralph Gilles – 2013 New York













2014 SRT Viper TA rear three quarters in motion 300x187 imageFor starters, I think performance is here to stay as long as it’s done in moderation. We’re going to stay a concise volume maker – we’re not chasing volume, so I don’t want to grow the brand and neither does my boss; we want to keep it nice and exclusive. We’re experimenting with the core models because we believe there’s still this kind-of raw enthusiast that doesn’t really want any of the fancy stuff so we’re trying to see if that goes anywhere. In terms of developing – the next questions you’re probably going to ask me is, “Are you going to have another dedicated [SRT] vehicle?” I dream about this all the time. It consumes me, this idea of doing something underneath the Viper that’s a lot more affordable because I think the brand has resonated with a lot of young people, and I want to give the next generation of enthusiasts a car that they would love. It’s out there, there’s no timetable right now, but it’s something I dream about.

So what would your dream sub-Viper car look like?

I 2007 Dodge Demon concept 300x187 imagedon’t know. It would be something awesome. Let’s put it this way, I have a lot of respect for the BRZ and those types of cars. We would do it differently but I like that type of vehicle – I always have. Something small, nimble. A simple car.

Would an SRT version of the BRZ cost about the same?

No it’d be more. Our power levels would have to be a little more significant [laughs] so let’s leave it at that.

Does SRT have to mean street and track performance? Could you guys do an off-roader?

We’ve never done it before but I’ve been asked that a lot, even internally it’s been a water cooler discussion. If the opportunity presents itself, why not? But most of the people on my staff are ex-road racers — a lot of road racers, a lot of hotrodders – they’re not in the Baja community, you know.

How many models do you envision in the SRT lineup?

People 2005 Dodge Ram SRT 10 Quad Cab 300x187 imagehave asked me like if I’d do an SRT Fiat 500, but I’m like well, they have Abarth. Abarth basically is their SRT so there’s no need to double brand it, so you have to respect heritage too. I would love to do another Ram, but a different formula. The last one got a bit silly with the four doors and all that stuff. It intrigues me because we had one before, and a lot of guys who have the truck are trying to maintain it but they’re getting to be 10 years old now, and ask “Hey! When are you going to do another one?” So I get that a lot. We’ll see. We stay fluid.

What’s the next Hemi look like?

2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8 engine 2 300x187 imageWe never stop evolving the Hemi. We added active manifolds; variable valve timing…the engine keeps getting better, and better, and better. That’s the path we’re on, continuous improvement, and efficiency. Even though the engine’s the most powerful it’s ever been it keeps getting more efficient. We’re looking at all those things in balance. The other big thing is we have semi-active exhaust, and something we’re really looking at and intrigued by is by using active exhaust more aggressively going forward. The deal is to stay in four-cylinder mode as long as possible, as much as possible. The eight-speed transmission in the Grand Cherokee for example allows that to be the case. Using the Grand Cherokee as an example, the engineers are able to use the best of the torque of the V-8 even in four-cylinder mode because of the large displacement combined with the eight-speed transmission – it’s a marriage made in heaven. The transmission guys and the engine guys have never sat closer together.

Could SRT go forced induction? What about for greater efficiency?

I would never rule it out. I think it’s a misnomer. If you look at fuel economy versus horsepower it’s hard to beat the Hemi in the 300 at 23 mpg and 470 hp. Find me another car that does that in a 4000-pound vehicle. If you put too small of an engine with a turbocharger on it in too big of a car you’re actually going to be less efficient. It’s really a system issue so you always have to look at getting weight out of the car in the first place, and then worry about the engine.

What’s next for Chrysler design?

I 2014 Jeep Cherokee front three quarter 2 300x187 imagethink the Cherokee is a good example. If I had to describe it I want to let our hair down a little bit, I want to have fun. I have a boss, Mr. Sergio Marchionne, who’s very progressive. He’s involved in design all the time. We spend a lot of time debating design. The brands are all very confident now; the brands are in a good place. Jeep, in particular, is strong and recognized. It’s back on its feet, I would say. It allows you to take some chances and do some things because we have that credibility. I think as a designer it gives you a lot more freedom, so we’re about to have a blast. The future is going to be fun. Actually, we already are designing the future now; we’ve been on it for several years since Sergio showed up, and every brand has been invested in, and there’s going to be some great product coming. I’m having the time of my life. I can’t wait to talk to you next year so hopefully you can start seeing what I’m talking about. We did a lot of work on our new cars but you haven’t really seen our brand, brand-new stuff yet.

So this time next year?

This time next year there should be quite a few new things. You’re going to see Cherokee now in just a few minutes, so it gives you a hint as to how progressive we want to be going forward.

What’s your favorite non-Chrysler car here?

I like the new Kia Soul, I like it a lot.

What about it do you like?

Just 2014 Kia Soul front right view2 300x187 imagethe fact that it’s its own thing. It’s unique. It’s not trying to be anybody else. They found a unique space there, and they’ve taken the hamster car, as my daughter calls it, and evolved it in a nice way. I like to see something that’s iconic in its own space.

Where do you see SRT in 10 years?

imageWell I think it’ll always be very low volume, but my hope is that we progress to a new place. I think the cars are going to naturally have to downsize, and also get into different types of engine technology. But I want SRT to be a place where the company really experiments with technology, I really do. We’re already doing that with adaptive suspension, carbon fiber, lightweight materials, aluminum-stamped doors – high-strength compounds. If you look at the curvature on the Viper door – most engineers can’t believe it’s aluminum, so it can be done if you heat it and do it properly. There’s a lot of different types of technology, whether it’s manufacturing, whether it’s materials, whether it’s horsepower, braking systems, whatever – stability control, we’re very progressive on stability control. We always want that to be the place where we try new stuff, and that’s what will keep us relevant, not only outside the company, but in the company. We can’t just be a bunch of hotrodders running around making really powerful cars. So I want it to be a permanent part of the company, absolutely.