Is there something in the air? It's summer in Detroit, and automakers are talking speed. On Thursday, Ford bowed its new racing partnership with X-Games. Now Chrysler Group's Dodge division has created a bona fide sub-brand out of its nearly decade-old in-house factory-modification program SRT (for Street and Racing Technology.)
The SRT marque started as a factory-tuning program for Dodge Viper, and has tended to be somewhat Dodge-weighted when it came to individual Chrysler Group vehicles benefiting from the factory speed treatment. Now the SRT brand will more evenly modify Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge cars and trucks.
The move is, in fact, contemporaneous with the release of the 2012 Dodge Challenger SRT8, 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8, 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 and 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8. The four vehicles share a HEMI V-8 engine, as well.
Heading up the new division/brand is Ralph Gilles, the multitasking designer-turned-marketing executive who became famous for penning the Chrysler 300 in 2005, then was moved up to be president and CEO of Dodge as well as SVP of Chrysler Group design in 2009. He is now president and CEO, SRT brand and Chrysler's Motorsports operation.
Gilles tells Marketing Daily that making SRT a real division rather than an in-house performance shop imbues it with all of the benefits of a brand, like continuity of programs, and longevity of SRT itself. Heretofore, SRT has tended to be a bit like a lightbulb on an old circuit, shining bright one year, dimming the next. Gilles says no longer, adding that the new status of SRT means there will also be real marketing muscle behind the brand.
"There was not much marketing for SRT before beyond places like auto shows, but as we go forward we will develop lifestyle programs and events for it -- we will reach out more to customers," says Gilles. "It will be an actively marketed brand versus something integrated with Dodge, Jeep and Chrysler. As we go forward, we need a place for a performance brand to live."
What Gilles says he does not see for SRT is tier-one advertising. "I see it in a more accessible viral and Web-based media world, and the number-one area will be grassroots, ground-level events. The company says all SRT vehicles henceforth will reflect five engineering imperatives: High horsepower and torque ratings; High-end handling dynamics; high-end braking systems; an exterior paint, function, and aesthetic strategy that makes SRT both visually identifiable and aerodynamically slippery and road-hugging.
The big question: when Chrysler was under the aegis of Daimler AG, SRT had its own skunk works in a dedicated building. Does the SRT brand get its own house again? Gilles says physical logistics are TBD.