Ralph, Let’s Talk.

By: Scott Vandekerckhove – Lead Contributor 


After wrapping up our interview with Dodge CEO, Reid Bigland, I had just a few short minutes to change gears and prepare for SRT CEO, Ralph Gilles.

We received a large amount of questions for Gilles via the Modern Mopar Magazine Facebook and Twitter pages.  We also scoured the forums for any questions we could find from our followers and did our best to incorporate everyone’s thoughts.  Remember, we only had 15 minutes with him, so I hope we have satisfied all of you.

Nevertheless, here’s what we got…

MMM:  Ralph, we received an obscene amount of questions for you.

RG:  We?  Received?  From whom?!

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MMM:  From all of our readers via Facebook and forum posts.  We told them we were coming to see you.

RG:  Wow!

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MMM:  But before we get into those questions, can you please discuss how SRT became its own brand and how your role differs now from the way it was when you ran Dodge?

RG:  Well, ok.

It was quite a bit different at Dodge because we were kind of in a “brand-building” mode when it separated out.  And I think that’s largely kind of happened and in place now.

My role now is developing SRT into a true brand.  Not necessarily a stand-alone brand like Ram at that level; but really a brand where the new Viper will be our car.  It will be called the SRT Viper.  Everything else will always be integrated back into their respective brands.  And we are always mindful of how we support the brand

But my job now is, basically, to carve out that niche in the marketplace for SRT; build the equity of the brand as high as we possibly can, so that as we roll out new products, those products have instant credibility.  So, that’s a big project for us to build that credibility; protect it; be very careful how we execute what we do execute; support and celebrate our customers; and do as much as we can with events and reaching out to the community.

I’m very proud of our new website, www.DriveSRT.com.  It’s doing quite well.  Our traffic is getting up every day and it’s only going to keep growing after that.

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MMM:  SRT being its own brand has got to be liberating for you and the team.  But with that liberation comes some daunting challenges.  This is kind of a two part question.

Do you still get financial support from Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep to help run the SRT business?  Or do you have your own budget and get thrown to the wolves?

RG:  No.  Those cars were always embedded in the plans.  So, it’s almost like we (SRT) postmark them.

It’s all integrated into the budget.  I share marketing budgets with the rest of the company.  I have to justify every penny I spend.  But, again, it’s all a halo effect on the brands, one way or another.  So, what’s good for SRT is good for the brands.

It has not been an issue at all.  The brands have been very supportive. 

Motorsports has always had its own budget, and that continues on very much the same way. 

So, it’s all good!

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MMM:  We received some fairly consistent questioning about the level of treatment at Chrysler dealerships; some of which is not so positive.

How does SRT plan to enhance customer service at the point of sale and monitor that performance over time?  What should SRT customers expect in terms of elevated service?

RG:  So, it’s a bit tougher because we have some dealers that will sell one SRT a year; we’ve actually had that happen!  We have other dealers that will sell 50 a month.  So there’s a big discrepancy in the traffic.

We find that the dealers who tend to sell in a decent amount – like 15, 20, or more monthly – they tend to kind of figure that out. 

The problem is when a dealer gets one SRT product in and their one salesman just may not know quite enough.

So, in the long term, we’re going to try to develop a list of what we would call ‘SRT Preferred Dealers’ – dealers that have a great service department with a great technician on hand.  Of course, we encourage all of our dealers to do that, but we’re going to reward the ones who do by funneling people in their direction.

In the meantime, I think we’re almost done training our unique call center.  It’s all set up.  We’ve identified certain individuals; we’ve hired them; now we’re in the training process.  They’re actually getting trained by our SRT Engineers – all the same people you talk to for Modern Mopar Magazine – so that if customers are not getting the answers they need at the dealership level, at least the call center will be an authentic call center that is SRT-dedicated.

And then, on the website, we compliment as much as we can.

I have been taking emails – probably five, ten a week – dealing with various aspects of SRT.  We do everything we can to jump on things.

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MMM:  Are those five or ten customer issues?

RG:  Oh yeah!  Customer issues or dealer issues.

Dealers are mostly asking, “When can I get my cars?!!!”  They’re a bit impatient (Gilles says laughingly).

I’ve never had the same issue twice, though.  By the time it comes to me, it’s a pretty unique situation.

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MMM:  How do you control price gouging?  It seems to run pretty rampant with these cars.

RG:  Ummmm, there’s not much we can do.  It’s a free country.

We’ve seen a few Grand Cherokees go on eBay for well over $70,000.  There’s nothing I can do. 

And that’s the unfortunate side of being exclusive.  We’re not chasing volume, so we’re keeping our volumes pretty modest, and that drives the demand up naturally.

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MMM:  We’re seeing, really for the first time, SRT really expanding beyond the U.S., going into places like China and Italy recently.  How do you strategize where you go, and with what vehicles?

 

RG:  So, I’ll be very clear.  Right now, that expansion is being handled a little bit more by Mike Manley (Jeep Brand CEO) and his international team.  But it’s literally been a pull-dynamic.  We haven’t pushed those vehicles.  They were pulled by the markets.  They’ve been getting that much noise from the markets who are saying, “We want these cars!  We want these cars!”  So, of course, we’re doing our best to placate them. 

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MMM:  There’s been some talk recently about Australia’s V8 Supercar Series.  You’ve taken some interest in that?

RG:  I’ve been a big fan of that series for years.  I just love the racing.  It’s very close racing.  The cars are great to watch; they make great noises. 

It’s kind of funny.  I had an Australian journalist who came to me and asked if we even knew that series existed because they’re about to, I guess, be televised by U.S. carriers.  So, that now makes it interesting for us.

It’s just something, right now, that’s at arm’s length.  We’re going to look at it. 

You know, every time you race, it’s a big, expensive project.  It’s nothing for the faint-at-heart.  So, we’re just going to investigate it.  Nothing more.

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MMM:  Expansion seems to be the theme at SRT now…(Gilles interrupts)

RG:  Careful expansion.  Selective.  (Gilles chuckling)

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MMM:  Certainly your cars have gone up in price and performance – it appears like you’re looking to play hardball.  So, I’ll say ‘Charger,’ you say who your competitor is.

RG:  (pauses) None.

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MMM:  Reason being?

RG:  There just isn’t.  The closest thing there would have been to the Charger was the Pontiac G8, which is now out of production.

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MMM:  But are you looking to go after the BMW 5-series?

RG:  Not really.

I think there may be some people who consider it.  But the Charger is a little bit bigger car.  The Charger was never intended to be a direct competitor.

We did, however, study the 5-series’ handling characteristics.  We have perfect 50/50 weight distribution in the Charger, so it gives the car a very European-like demeanor.  But we never really put the 5-series in our crosshairs. 

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MMM:  300?

RG:  Probably the Cadillac CTS-V.

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MMM:  Grand Cherokee?

RG:  BMW X5M, Porsche Cayenne Turbo, and Range Rover HSE.  But, again, we’re $20K to $30K under those guys.

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MMM:  Challenger?

RG:  Ford Mustang and Chevy Camaro.  More Camaro than Mustang.  Mustang is a bit smaller car.

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MMM:  2013 Viper?

RG:  Wow!  That’s a good question.  I don’t know.

I’ll let the people tell me.  Again, I think it’s unique.  There really isn’t anything quite like it.

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MMM:  You seem steadfast on conquesting new buyers.  In fact, I recently received an invite for the reveal of the new Viper and it said dress code is, “New York Chic.”  Who are you really going after here?  And do you think it’s indicative of Mopar culture?  Are you afraid of alienating your current buyers?

 RG:  (Gilles chuckling at the “New York Chic” comment)

That was a tongue-in-cheek joke actually, cause we knew we were going to get flack about that.  So, it worked as we intended it to work.

I’m not afraid of alienating our customers.  You know, I’m a big fan of our current base.  I hang out with them all the time.  I’m going to Spring Fest in a few weeks.  I get it.

But, on the other hand, it’s a symbolic thing to say, “Hey, we’ve come of age.”  You know, the quality’s up, the execution’s up, the detail is there – the new Viper will be a car that has the ability to range. 

A lot of our owners have been with us from the beginning and have been asking for these upgrades.  So, we’re just delivering what they wanted.

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MMM:  I hate to say that 470 horsepower isn’t competitive any more, but the market kind of dictates that. 

There’s a 580 horsepower Camaro coming out; a 650 horsepower Mustang; and all of your Euro competitors are exceeding 500 horsepower. 

Will you have answers for these vehicles?  And what measures are you taking in terms of forced induction, weight reduction, and even fuel economy to really go to that next level?

RG:  Yeah.  Now, if you’ve looked at SRT over the last 10 years – especially the last five years – we never stopped developing the cars.  We’re always improving.

Just recently, we made a big jump from 425 horsepower to 470; suspension’s been developed; and we’ve dramatically changed the handling characteristics of the cars.

Weight is absolutely something that is front-of-mind that we’re going to look at it now.  I think they’re as heavy as they’re ever going to get.  Now we have to go the other way.

When it comes to power level, let me just say that we have taken note.  We hear you.  And we’re always looking to continue developing.

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MMM:  I’ll throw some technologies at you.  You say if and when it’s coming.

More power?…

RG:  Stay tuned.  I’m not saying anything.

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MMM:  AWD on something other than a Jeep?…

RG:  Stay tuned.

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MMM:  8-speed transmissions?…

RG:  Stay tuned.

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MMM:  Speaking of horsepower, there’s an inordinate amount of HEMI owners looking to tune their cars, as are the tuning companies.  Can you set the record straight on this issue?

Pietro Gorlier (CEO of Mopar) says that tuning is “absolutely part of Mopar’s strategy moving forward.”  Is it part of yours?

RG:  Yeah.  Together.

Actually, Pietro, myself, and Bob Lee (Head of Chrysler’s Powertrain Coordination) are working on this 24/7 right now.  We are very close to a solution.  So, stay tuned.

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MMM:  How soon will we see another SRT product after Viper?

RG:  Can’t talk about that.

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MMM:  What are you driving right now?

RG:  A Fiat 500 Abarth. 

I just turned in my Charger SRT8 and I miss it.  But I love the Abarth too.  And I have a Neon SRT-4.

MMM:  Is it true you have a go-cart track at your house?

RG:  Yes.

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MMM:  Are they electric or gas cars?

RG:  I had gas.  But right now, they’re all electric.

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MMM:  Favorite Mopar of all time?

RG:  Viper.

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MMM:  Can you confirm that the new Viper will have a V-10?

RG:  Nope.  I cannot confirm that.

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MMM:  Will the new Viper exceed performance of the last generation car?

RG:  Of course.

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MMM:  Will the Viper return to Le Mans racing?

RG:  Why don’t you ask your readers if they’d like to see us return to Le Mans?

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MMM:  Will the SRT Track Experience make its way to Canada?

RG:  We’re actually working on that right now.  We’ve received enough feedback.

I would love to got to Mosport personally.  Plus, there’s a few other tracks up there that I love.

In the meantime, they’re welcome state-side.

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(At this point in the interview, I handed Gilles a picture of the recent Viper teaser image and he asked me a question…)

RG:  How did this go over in your world?

MMM:  Ummmmmmmm.  They always want more.  I’d say it was split 50/50.  Some liked it.  Others wanted more.

RG:  This is a lot!  If someone’s smart enough to read between the tea leaves, there’s a lot here.

Would people rather us show nothing?

MMM:  True.  At least it was something.

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10 Comments

on “Ralph, Let’s Talk.
10 Comments on “Ralph, Let’s Talk.
  1. Pingback: Ralph gilles will you Step up !! - Dodge Challenger Forum: Challenger & SRT8 Forums

  2. Why wasn’t he asked about the new ‘Cuda ? I think it would have been a perfect time to address that in regards with the SRT branding, as if it is built, it would almost have to be, what would you call it a Chrysler Cuda ?

  3. thats great news that the v8 supercar series here in Australia is geting an arms length look at by Ralph, i know he will love it here, and we will love srt here too:]

    i have an army of aussie mopar srt dodge chrysler fans here that await the SRT dominance, take your time, assess the situation carefully and it could be a beautiful thing :]
    MOPAR TO THE FRONT!
    [I][O][][][][]I[][][][][O][I]
    CHARGERDAN

  4. Ralph your losing customers by the minute, your last in every performance category and when the ZL1 and new GT500 come out your 470 untunable HP iw worthless.

    That speed channel SRT showcase was for lack of a better word sad. Thank god a Boss did not show up and embarass your entire SRT line up.

  5. Interesting comment that he considers a big jump in power is from 425 to 470 BHP…hope the next big jump is 470 to 600 BHP so the SRT brand can compete squarely with the ZL1 and 2013 GT500. I also hope they work out tuning sooner than later.

  6. Great Interview! Ralphy owns a Neon SRT4! Im an original NSRT-$ owner also! She’s earned the license plate MINIVPR! I gotta say she has slayed a few of her big brother Vipers (that’s beccaue I can’t a real one!) But that doesn’t mean I won’t own one, one day! Maybe one of the new ones! SRT for life! Exciting to see the new and up and coming products, loving that Jeep SRT-8 the most right now. Is the Dart gonna get an SRT treatment as mentioned on autoblog.com?

  7. Pingback: Ralph Gilles Interview - Dodge Challenger Forum

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  9. Funny picture, that last one. Looks like a proud papa holding his child. Also noticed the Viper pin on his lapel. Very interested to see the new Viper. Should end up being the one the World is chasing……….as it should be.

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