Ralph Gilles Set to Drive SRT Forward
Former Dodge CEO takes the reins at Chrysler's performance brand.
Web2Carz Senior Writer
Published: July 8th, 2012
"There's plenty of customers out there that love, and will always love performance. If you go back to OPEC times, people thought muscle cars would be gone forever, and we have better ones now than we've ever had."
hrysler's SRT performance brand likes to position itself as the ultimate enthusiast's brand (particularly if your type of automotive enthusiasm drifts to American muscle), which perhaps makes it fitting that Ralph Gilles, who's known throughout the auto industry as one of the ultimate car guys, is in charge.
SRT's CEO got his start as a designer at Chrysler in 1992, and has since moved up the ladder steadily. In 2009, Gilles, who was born in New York City but grew up in Montreal, was named CEO of Dodge, a position he held until June 2011, when he moved over to SRT.
During a recent interview, he told us he got the design bug when he saw the cars of the '80s. He said he saw those "ugly" cars and said to himself: "I can do better. I can do something and fix this."
SRT is at a crossroads. Once Chrysler's in-house performance arm, it has now become its own brand. Not only that, but for now, it's a brand full of powerful muscle cars, which makes it a bit anachronistic in this age of fuel-economy concerns. Right now, the roster consists of the Dodge Charger SRT8, Chrysler 300 SRT8, Dodge Challenger SRT8 392, Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8, and the upcoming SRT Viper.
Of course, not only does SRT have to compete as a performance niche brand, but as the roster above shows, only one vehicle—the next Viper—is truly an SRT-branded car. The rest are performance versions of other Chrysler vehicles.
"Keep the brand's equity as high as we can, keep developing the brand equity," is how Gilles describes the vision for SRT going forward. He points to DriveSRT.com as a portal for both current SRT owners and new customers. He also wants to get the brand back into racing.
With Dodge launching the Dart compact car this year, an SRT version of the small car seems like a natural fit.
"I'm very intrigued by that concept, how far we can take the SRT brand," Gilles said. "The number one thing is to get the brand value to be there first. Once the brand value is up there, it affords you to do something like that and have credibility right away versus earning it."
For the foreseeable future, Gilles sees at least one major challenge facing both industry and SRT.
"I think the challenge is going to be to develop brands," Gilles said.
Gilles isn't too worried about higher fuel economy standards, since SRT's sales volumes are low and since the brand counts into Chrysler's larger fleet for Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) purposes.
"There's plenty customers out there that love, and will always love, performance. If you go back to OPEC times, people thought muscle cars would be gone forever, and we have better ones now than we've ever had."
Gilles says the philosophy of the brand is more than just performance, or as he calls it "beyond performance." He says the goal of SRT is to build a car that's not just good, but "fun to own."
He says that reaching out to customers is a big part of that, by taking part in various car shows and similar events, like car-club meetups.
Whatever challenges that SRT may face going forward, based on what we've heard from him, Gilles might just be the right man for the top job.Related Vehicles: 2013 dodge viper