Interview: Dodge CEO Tim Kuniskis on the performance present and the electric future

(Motor Authority) – Dodge presented its past, present and future during Speed ​​Week at the M1 Concourse in Pontiac last week. CEO Tim Kuniskis held three nights of product unveilings called Current Muscle, Gateway Muscle and Future Muscle.

Counting on another year, Kuniskis reintroduced the 2023 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat and multiple Challenger and Charger iterations of the final Dodge V-8s before production peaked in late 2023. Gateway Muscle presented the small 2023 Dodge Hornet crossover in turbo-4 and plug-in hybrid variants. But last night, Future Muscle won the web with the launch of the stunning two-door Dodge Charger Daytona SRT Concept.

With an ’80s hair metal cover band rocking out to a crowd of Dodge enthusiasts and auto journalists, Kuniskis took time away from the party to hang out with Motor Authority about the current and electric future of the American performance brand.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

2023 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat

Why Did the Dodge Durango Hellcat Come Back?

We had to change the tank, we had to change the software, we had to change the evaporative emission control system, and we had to change a lot of things to make it more than one model year. The response was beyond our expectations. We had 3,000 orders… for a very expensive UV that I couldn’t fulfill. Let’s face it, it’s a publicly traded company. I owe the shareholders to make as much money as possible. So how do I look at shareholders and say, “Yeah, I have 3,000 people willing to spend 85,000 for an SUV,” and I said sorry, too bad? It’s a hard decision, but at the same time it’s not a very hard decision. So I’m sorry to piss people off, but it’s two years later and because of the response and the 3k orders and the engineers had some time, and they got creative and came up with it.

We don’t sell any car that anyone needs. If I get a chance to bring a car back to a market that people love, I should. I don’t want to piss anyone off, but if I have 3k cash orders I have to.

With supply restrictions and reports from some dealers asking for more, the release of the seven “Buzz model” Chargers and Challengers will be free for everyone, won’t it?

I have no control over what the dealer charges. But if I put on my website where every car is, you now know where all the cars are. So now you (the customer) can go anywhere, do anything, whatever you want. You can’t do that today.

How will the transition from gasoline models to electric vehicles affect Dodge dealerships? What are the growing pains of waiting two years to release your first electric car?

During the two years I have to keep selling all the cars I have because I have a rabidly passionate base of people who love these cars. Then I got other people saying, ‘Hey, what do you do for electrification? I am interested. What are you bringing?” I have to keep them both happy. The same thing happens with dealers.

I’m going to give them so much time – that’s why we patented the stuff. Will the patents hold? I don’t know, I’m not a lawyer. But what I do know is that I didn’t want to release the car (Charger Daytona EV Concept) in 2024 and be like, “Hey, it’s great, trust me.” I wanted to get it out way in advance so you can all talk about it.

How does the Dodge Charger Daytona’s Fratsonic Chambered Exhaust work?

The sound a car makes these days is something mystical to most people. It’s pretty simple. We spend months and millions of dollars tuning exhaust pipes to make them sound the way they sound. It becomes a trademark of your brand’s sound. The sound your brain hears is the movement of air.

When we started working on this, I said, “What I want is a pipe organ,” and they said, “What are you drinking again?” You’ve all been in a cathedral and you’ve seen a pipe organ… and heard this amazing sound, and immediately, whether you know it or not, your brain makes a connection between the pipes, the air and the sound, and it’s logically . I said I want that. I want to take what makes noise in a car today, am I standing still, am I accelerating, how much pedal do I step on it, am I under extreme load, am I shifting…all the things that change the pitch and the tone and the volume of air that changes the sound caused by the car. I want to take all those inputs that all exist on an electric car and I want to feed that into an algorithm, then I want to take that and I want to move air. I want to take a transducer, I want to move a plenum, just like I would move a piston, and that piston then moves air in a tube. That tube then feeds a chamber, that chamber has chambers in it, and then a huge exhaust pipe in the back.

Now what happens is you hear 126 decibels in the back of the car. The spatial difference between outside the car and behind you when moving is like the first time you went in and heard surround sound.

You mentioned the algorithm… what is the electronic component?

We take all that input, and then have to translate if that was movement of air in a gas engine, what would it sound like? That would be the sound of a V-8, but I don’t want that. We want it to sound modern, fresh, different, new. The reason we call it a Banshee is that when you think about the screaming shrillness of a banshee, it’s almost like a jet engine, but it’s not. It’s bad, but still not, but it’s a tough sound. You couldn’t always live with that. That’s your wide open, screaming, I’m on the highway, I’m coming on the sound. But if you let go of that, or if you shift, or it ripples, or something like that, it comes back to a tone. And we think that tone is the game changer. The bass track of this sound is literally the cadence of the firing sequence of a Hemi V-8. It doesn’t sound like a V-8, but when you hear it, you feel like something puts me at ease, something that makes me feel like I’m okay with this. Yet it sounds modern, fresh and very cool.

Explain the multi-speed transmission in the Charger Daytona Concept.

Multi-speed is an electro-mechanical system. We shift it mechanically with gears and we shift it electronically. If you think about what’s happening in a Hellcat today, you’re going to complete a shift, slip a clutch, change a drum and go to another gear ratio in 250 milliseconds. What’s stopping me from doing that in an EV? Nothing.

I can instantaneously pull out torque for 250 milliseconds and add torque back to give you a shift. Does it make your car faster? No. Does it make your car much more fun to drive? Hell yes.

You’re not going to say how many speeds?

No. Not done yet. The funny thing is that the engineers will tell you first. A single-speed EV is by far the most efficient. It’s great technology. Using multiple speeds will not make the car faster.

It will also make it heavier.

It’s going to make it heavier, and it’s going to add cost, and it’s going to add development. But it’s also going to add a lot more fun to the car.

Multi-speed also gives me the benefit of more traction. So let’s just say, in theory, if I had an option for some really big, really tacky tires, and I could launch the car really hard, then multi-speed would really be an advantage. Theoretically. I mean. After all, it’s a concept.

Naturally. Theoretically. You’ve never done anything like this before.

No. That would be irresponsible.2023 Dodge Hornet

2023 Dodge Hornet

What’s different about the Dodge Hornet’s chassis than the related Tonale?

We tuned the engine differently, we tuned the transmission differently, we tuned the suspension differently, we tuned the steering differently.

We wanted it to feel more like a Dodge. We have a shifting nature that we like, we like a certain speed and firmness, we like a certain firmness of the steering, we have certain expectations for our suspension, especially when we get to something like the GLH (concept). But one of the other important things is that now that we have Direct Connect, we’re reviewing everything we do with future adjustments in mind.

When we started working on this car, we knew we wanted Direct Connection for a GLH. I could have done a GLH through Direct Connection and said, hey, you need these thru-axles, you need this, you need that. It would have been a fortune. Or it’s a few bucks to put it in the base car and give you the option to go up there from there. Which, by the way, is the same as what we do with the Daytona. We plan it all from day one.

What is the advantage of the Hornet’s three-link rear suspension and how is it different from the Tonale’s?

Mechanically and hardware the same, (but) all tuning is different. If you haven’t been involved in that, it’s easy to throw that away, but it makes a huge difference. I’ve been driving those cars since the first mules and from where they are now from where we started… after a year we’re getting into a space that we’re really happy with.

That design was driven by the fact that we went with a much wider track (in the base platform).2023 Dodge Charger and Challenger Last Call

2023 Dodge Charger and Challenger Last Call

What are you going to miss when the Challenger and Charger and Durango end production as we know it?

I’m excited about the challenge we’re about to take on. These cars are great. I can say that. I have one, I invested my personal money in it. They are great cars. But they are unsustainable in today’s market. I hate to say it, but it’s a fact. So if they’re unsustainable, we could very easily say Dodge can’t make it, Dodge can’t exist, Dodge can’t be what Dodge is, so let’s get our toys and go home.

What I find exciting is to look to the future and go well, just like any racer, give me the rule book and let me find the gray areas that I can exploit to bring you something fun that is a real Dodge. This has happened many times in the industry… once you give them the better mousetrap, everything changes. You don’t go from 5% EV to 30% EV without a better mousetrap. The responsibility lies with us. It’s about the infrastructure, the policymakers have to bring the infrastructure. And the car manufacturers have to give you something better than what you have. Otherwise it never works. Dodge Charger Daytona Concept

Dodge Charger Daytona Concept

What are the key features that bring Dodge to this next generation of vehicles?

Think about where we were ten years ago. Our top car had 425 horsepower. We were outsmarted in the horsepower war. We were bigger, heavier, and we couldn’t handle it, and we were seriously outgunned in horsepower. Did we get a new car? No. Have we made the car lighter? No. We just kept adjusting the car.

Half my volume is Pentastars (V-6 engines; Kuniskis made it clear that sales numbers aren’t favorable to Hellcats.) You’re buying something bigger than buying a car. That’s why we say performance is an attitude. Whether your car is powered by a PHEV, gas or electric (powertrain), it doesn’t matter. If I can give you the attitude and personality of something bigger than that car, you’ll be fine. If I can’t, I fail and it doesn’t work.

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