By: Scott Vandekerckhove – Lead Contributor
The North American International Auto Show is upon us!!! This is absolutely one of my most favorite times of the year!!! Thousands upon thousands of automotive journalists and media personalities have descended upon Detroit’s COBO Hall to view the latest and greatest from nearly every major auto manufacturer on the planet. And, lucky for me, I was smack-dab in the middle of it all today.
There is no doubt that one of today’s biggest unveilings, if not the biggest, belonged to the All-New 2013 Dodge Dart (pictured below). With its lineup missing a bona fide compact car since the extinction of the Neon, Dodge has hit back hard with a stylish and remarkably content-laden vehicle that is sure to explode once it hits the market. We’re excited to get behind the wheel and provide a comprehensive review once it becomes available.
But after the unveiling had finished, it was time for me to make a B-line to the Mopar interview booth where I was greeted by Mopar Brand President and CEO, Pietro Gorlier. I had almost 30 minutes to sit down and ask some very pointed questions about the Mopar Brand and what the future has in store for all us fans. Some of these questions came directly from you, our readers, and we think you’ll be very intrigued by Gorlier’s answers.
MMM: With a new car like the Dart debuting here in Detroit, something we’d like to know is how far in advance does Mopar start to develop parts and accessories for an all-new vehicle?
PG: We literally start working on Day-1 now from the time a car first begins its design process. This is something we have really focused on in the last two years. We had a lot of complaints from customers that Mopar accessories, in particular, were not always readily available when they wanted them. This was something we had to change.
So, nowadays, we work hand-in-hand with the Product Development Teams at each brand in order to give our customers a wide range of options to personalize their cars right away. The 2013 Dart, for instance, will have 150 accessories available at the time it launches to market which will give us a great start.
Furthermore, working with the Product Development Teams from the get-go also helps us tremendously from a service standpoint. If you can imagine, we can tweak things ever so slightly in the development process that will make a huge difference even for our technicians when the vehicle comes in for service. It could be something as little as the strategic placement of an oil filter that will save a technician time to replace it. In turn, we can significantly reduce a consumer’s cost of ownership.
MMM: Looking more at the Dart, this car will undoubtedly be packed full of content directly from the factory with an incredible amount of options to choose from. What areas of the car will Mopar focus on first to develop accessories?
PG: Mopar has a distinct history of providing customers with the ability to individualize their vehicles at great lengths. In this case, the Dart is absolutely the most perfect canvas for Mopar to continue that heritage.
The primary focus of our accessories will definitely be on exterior appearance, most notably the wheels. From there we will work more on the electronics side offering our Mopar Brand Electronic Vehicle Tracking System (EVTS), as well as a new phone charging device that will consist of a wireless charger that allows you to simply set your phone on a small pad and recharge the device.
But I can definitely sit here today and tell you that the 2013 Dart will easily have the most accessory options of any vehicle in the compact segment by far! Additionally, buyers will be able to add options that they did not elect at the original point of purchase.
MMM: When it comes to accessorizing new vehicles, what’s the average amount of money customers are spending at the original point of purchase? And what’s the most accessorized vehicle in the Chrysler Group lineup?
PG: On average, our customers are spending about $400 at the original point of purchase. We’re certainly looking to increase that by growing the take-rate of our products, but that comes with time.
The Challenger is the most accessorized vehicle by our customers who now spend close to $1,000 on average. The Jeep Wrangler is a very close second. In fact, the Wrangler and Challenger compete closely all the time.
MMM: The Mopar ’10 Challenger and Mopar ’11 Charger seem to have gone over fairly well with fans. Should enthusiasts expect a Mopar ’12 this year? And do you see an annual trend like this continuing to occur?
PG: Well, in celebration of Mopar’s 75th anniversary, we will be announcing the Mopar ’12 on January 31, 2012, at our headquarters in Centerline, Michigan at 9:00am. I can’t tell you which vehicle it will be based on, but rest assured it is coming.
We are an aftermarket brand that will continue to offer these one-of-a-kind, limited edition models for the long haul. I foresee a Mopar ’13, ’14, ’15, and so on.
MMM: Do you ever see Mopar becoming its own car brand much like Ram and SRT have done? Vehicles that wear a Mopar VIN?
PG: No. We will stick to the mission of adding value to our other brands. Plus, we have enough to do (he said chuckling).
You know, I have to tell you a story…
When I came on board awhile back, it was obvious that Mopar had been neglected pretty badly. Regardless, I was astonished to find a very proud and dedicated team who were almost kept in the basement, yet they worked tirelessly to keep the brand alive. They weren’t necessarily treated too kindly by the Germans and the bankers.
So, when I first stepped in, I thought to myself, ‘These people must think I’m just an Italian coming into to kill the brand like everyone else has tried to do in the past.’ But I had a very different vision.
I consider myself to be a pretty fast learner. I gathered and studied about 20 to 30 books that covered Mopar history, and I strived to take this brand back to that heritage. (Gorlier told us those books sit in plain-view at his office)
So when I suggested the idea that we put the Mopar badge on a car, many people told me I was crazy. But I felt like it was a real statement of the brand, so we got it done. It is a tribute to our enthusiasts, much like all the readers of Modern Mopar Magazine.
And believe it or not, of all the Mopar clubs out there, roughly 20% exist outside of the U.S. Mopar has huge global presence.
MMM: The most common criticism that we receive about Mopar Performance is the inability to “tune” the new 6.4L HEMI. We’ve even talked with several tuner shops that say Chrysler is not only missing out on millions of dollars, but that they’re also losing customers who are going to other OEMs that make it much easier to perform engine modifications.
Is Mopar aware of this? Are there plans to open up these cars so that tuners can perform mods? And might we see the availability of superchargers and turbochargers in the future?
PG: We are well aware of the tuning issue because we have been listening closely. In fact, I have received a great number of letters from consumers expressing their discontent.
What I want people to understand is that we spent a great deal of time ‘righting the ship’ here at Chrysler and we had certain priorities that needed our attention first. But make no mistake about it, performance tuning is absolutely on the map for us. In fact, we will likely be working with several aftermarket tuners in order to address our ECM encryption. A strategy is in the process.
When it comes to superchargers and turbochargers, we’re looking at them just like we are tuning. It is part of our strategy.
Bottom line: stay tuned.
MMM: The 426S and Redline Charger (both shown below) sport this awesome 426 HEMI that is unfortunately not street-legal. Might there be street-legal versions soon?
PG: With the Redline Charger, we built three stages for the consumer. The first addresses appearance, then the second deals with dynamics. The third stage, of course, utilizes the 426 HEMI which is not street-legal. But we are waiting from the response of consumers to shape how we will go forward.
A street-legal version of the 426 HEMI is certainly something we’re considering. And, judging by your magazine, I’m guessing most, if not all of your readers would probably like to see it come out. We would, however, have to address things like fuel economy and emissions to make it work.
Again, stay tuned.
MMM: In order to be competitive with other aftermarket companies that offer similar types of parts and accessories (hoods, stereos, exhaust, etc.), does Mopar test their parts against said companies? And how do you stay competitive with pricing?
PG: Those are very good questions.
Making sure that our parts are of the highest quality is my most important goal. Our parts are tested to the same threshold as the parts that come off of our assembly lines. As an OEM, we are held to a much higher standard, so our parts have to perform properly.
We will not compromise the integrity of our parts just to lower the cost. With that in mind, I am well aware that we may miss some customers on account of price. But those who demand quality will understand why some of our products are a bit higher in cost to them.
At Mopar, we have an in-house Quality Team whose job it is to make sure not only that our products are sound, but also that they are being installed properly at our dealerships. It has to be a complete approach. Other aftermarket companies don’t have to necessarily meet our standards and consumers should be aware of that.
MMM: Historically speaking, many owners have expressed apprehension in modifying their cars (even with Mopar parts) in fear of voiding their factory warranty. Outside of consulting with their dealership, what avenue would you recommend to those owners who need to have a definitive answer as to whether or not they’re in the clear?
PG: First of all, any parts that we make that would void your vehicle’s factory warranty will explicitly state so in their warnings. The small number of those parts that we make are mostly for off-road use.
But if a consumer had further concerns, I would recommend they use our Customer Care Line (1-888-528-HEMI).
MMM: You have been a big proponent of your dealerships being open for service on Saturdays. How is that working out for the dealer body?
PG: 77% of our service centers are open for business on Saturdays now. That’s up from 60% in 2009. Our original goal was to have 80% participation by 2014, but it’s looking like we’ll hit that number in the next several months.
Dealers across the board have typically seen a 20% increase in service sales by being open on Saturdays, so the benefits have been significant.
MMM: With the Magnetti Marelli partnership now in place, are you seeing significant upticks in the servicing of competitive vehicles?
PG: We haven’t seen too much progress just yet. But prior to the partnership with Magnetti Marelli, we already serviced about 2.6 million competitive vehicles annually in our dealerships.
Now we have 25 parts product lines in place that apply to numerous manufacturers outside of the Chrysler Group. Those include GM, Ford, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Hyundai, and Kia.
In 2012, we will see the partnership grow.
MMM: Finally, what are you driving right now? And might you have any Mopar parts on your car?
PG: Well, currently my wife drives a Fiat 500 Cabriolet.
I drive a Durango that is really the guinea pig for Mopar. Any time we have new parts, they strap them on my car and see how they do. But honestly, I’ve got some “things” underneath the hood that you wouldn’t even know about.