By: Scott Vandekerckhove – Lead Contributor

I traveled out to the Chicago Auto Show yesterday to meet with Dodge CEO, Reid Bigland, in order to ask him some questions about the brand, his cars, and much more.

Before getting into the interview, I handed Bigland our Inaugural Edition of Modern Mopar Magazine and he commented that our cover car (Ken Johnston’s Charger) looks like the new Blacktop Charger that’s been “a bit modified,” he said jokingly.  “I don’t remember those flames coming out of the factory,” he added.

Bigland also took note of Rich’s Snakeskin Green Chrysler 300 across the top of our second issue that is shipping to subscribers right now.  “I had a Snakeskin Green Viper a few years ago, and that was a real hit,” he said.

From there, we dove in…

MMM:  Reid, I want to take you back to the Detroit Auto Show for a moment where I was sitting in the second row of your presentation on the new Dart.  I thought you did a phenomenal job.  I really enjoyed it!

This new Dart really revolves around being “groundbreaking.”  So, can you, in your terms, tell our readers how you feel the Dart will break ground?

RB:  What’s going to be different about the Dart is bringing features and content into the compact car segment that have never before existed.  And I’ll rattle through just a few of those things as it pertains to the Dart…

– A choice of either polished or Hyper Black wheels right out of the factory.  Hyper Black is very popular out on the West Coast and, by the looks of things, very popular with cars in your magazine.

– Class-exclusive integrated dual exhaust.  Again, something that really hasn’t existed before in the compact car segment.  Kind of the notion of, “Hey, who says compact cars can’t be sporty?”  And when you have dual exhaust, it makes a very distinct visual cue.

– Class-exclusive LED tail lamps; a design cue borrowed from the the Dart’s big brother, the Dodge Charger.  This really gives a compact car a little bit of visual personality on the exterior, instead of just being kind of synonymous with ‘boring and bland.’

– Class-exclusive 8.4-inch touchscreen.  The largest infotainment touchscreen in the segment.

– 7-inch TFT (Thin Film Transistor) screen that’s fully programmable and sits right in the center of the instrument cluster.

– Best-in-class hip and shoulder room.

– More second row leg room than the popular mid-size sedan, Hyundai Sonata.

So, in many respects, the Dodge Dart is a compact car, at a compact car price, with compact car fuel economy, but with mid-size interior roominess.  I think people want the economy of a compact vehicle, but they generally don’t want to be cramped into a sardine can.

There’s also extreme attention to detail throughout the entire interior of the Dart.

Those are just a few of the things that separate it, we think, from the pack and make it groundbreaking.

– – – – – – – –

MMM:  Speaking of this compact car segment, I want to throw some numbers at you.  2011 sales figures for the following cars read like this: Ford Focus, 175,717 units; Chevy Cruze, 231,732 units; Hyundai Elantra, 186,361 units.  I call this segment, “The Little Giants.”  And like you said at your press conference in Detroit, the compact car segment now comprises 15% of the marketplace.  Plus, there’s been a new focus on incorporating premium materials, as well as strong performance and dynamics.

That all said, where do you see Dart volume at?  And do you think it could potentially overtake some of these competitors?

RB:  I just don’t know yet.  The market will ultimately decide.

And I think, realistically, it’s going to take us a few months to kind of hit our stride.  We’re not going to go from zero to 60 overnight.  We’re going to start rolling out the Dart in Q2; realistically June, into our dealerships throughout the U.S.  Some of the content will start to stream in over the summer.  And then, by the fall, I think we’ll start hitting our stride and get a real sense for just what the market demand is for the vehicle.

Just last week, we cut the ribbon on a third shift at the assembly plant in Belvidere, Illinois which is indicative of the optimism we have heading into Dart production.  That third shift will come on stream over the next few months.  And then we made an investment of $700 million to upgrade that plant in order to produce the Dart.

We’re spooling up!  And we’re pretty optimistic at this point with respect to the Dart’s success in the marketplace.  But as far as volumes, we’re not in a position right now to be specific.

– – – – – – – –

MMM:  The VW Jetta has been operational in the U.S. with small displacement diesel engines for some time now.  The Chevrolet Cruze is next to come with diesel.  These are arguably 50 mpg cars. 

Do you see diesel playing a role in Dart’s future, especially given Fiat’s IVECO diesel capability?

RB:  Diesel is not in Dodge’s future for the Dart.

Now, we’re gonna bring the 3.0-liter diesel into the Jeep Grand Cherokee right around this time next year.  I think that’s gonna be a great fit for the Cherokee just like it was in Round 1 when we had a diesel in there before.

But, again, at this point, there are no plans to bring diesel into the Dart.

– – – – – – – –

MMM:  How about a two-door Dart?  Any consideration?

RB:  Nope.  No plans.

– – – – – – – –

MMM:  Reason why?

RB:  It’s an entirely new vehicle to go from four doors to two doors.  You can never say never, but there’s just no plans at this time.

We’ll launch the Dart soon and see how it goes from there.

– – – – – – – –

MMM:  Do you see the Dodge Brand going sub-compact like Chevy has done with the Sonic, or Ford with the Fiesta?

RB:  Not necessarily.

You know, Dodge is a mainstream, American brand.  We’ve got a very rich muscle car heritage in vehicles like the Charger and Challenger; both of which provide a positive halo on the 2013 Dart.

I see us staying pretty true to our roots – mainstream America, known for value and performance.  That’s really what Dodge is all about.

– – – – – – – –

MMM:  A name like Dart comes with a lot of historical baggage.  As does Charger.

I would say that there’s a significant market voice that is outspoken about how they feel Dodge is “bastardizing” these historical names.

So what do you say to the people who feel Dodge has tarnished these historical names by making a four-door Charger and a Dart with a four cylinder engine and front wheel drive?

The reason I ask is because several of our readers said they feel the Challenger has done so well because it stayed so close to the original.

RB:  You know, Charger has done very well also.

I think the readers of Modern Mopar remember the Dart for what it is today: living large on drag strips throughout North America.  And that’s part of the Dart heritage that, I too, am very proud of because deep down I love the original American muscle machines like the Challenger and the Charger.

But people have to remember that the Dart had a great mainstream run from 1960 to 1976.  We sold close to four million Darts and it, at the time, was kind of a break-through compact car for the market.

This isn’t your grandfather’s Dart.  This is a technologically advanced car with Alfa Romeo Giulietta DNA and great European ride and handling characteristics.

With respect to this Dart and the old Dart, we’re not trying to really replicate the old Dart other than the name.  We haven’t robbed design cues from the original Dart the way we have with the Charger and Challenger.

In our market research with this car, those that were 35 and younger, when we showed them the vehicle and list of potential names, they immediately gravitated towards ‘Dart’ because of its aggressive aerodynamics.  You know, the glove just really fit.

And those in a little bit older demographic, like 40 to 45 and older, we remembered the Dart for what it was.  We often knew someone who owned a Dart.  On its face, we too believed it to be a strong name.  It fit the look of the 2013 car, so we elected to run with it.

– – – – – – – –

MMM:  What’s the outlook for Challenger?  Does it have a bright future?  Or has it reached its twilight?

RB:  The Challenger continues to do extremely well for us.  Thank god there’s still people out there, like me, who still love the American muscle machine!

Now, if you think about it, this Challenger has had a longer run that the original car did from 1970.

The key with bringing retro-styled cars back, is to keep them fresh.  And when you have a retro look and you bring it into a modern day version, which the Challenger is, how do you continue to keep that fresh and cutting-edge going forward?

For right now, it’s livin.’  And it’s livin’ large.

– – – – – – – –

MMM:  In the meantime, will the Challenger ever get the 8-speed automatic?  And will we ever see a manual transmission with the Pentastar V6?

RB:  No comment on the 8-speed.

I don’t think you’ll see a manual linked to the 3.6.  Unlikely.

– – – – – – – –

MMM:  How about an 8-speed in V8 vehicles?

RB:  Can’t comment on that right now.

– – – – – – – –   

MMM:  Does Dodge retain the cross-hair grille moving forward?  (Bigland pauses, looks towards the ceiling, and sighs a bit)

RB:  You know, the Dart has it.  But it’s a little more subtle now.

I happen to like the cross-hair grille.  It’s not on the Challenger for good reason because the 1970 car didn’t have it.

I think you’ll see a gradual evolution of the cross-hair.  The Dart is a bit of a glimpse at that evolution.  But you’ll see it in the future for sure.

– – – – – – – –

MMM:  What’s the future of the Avenger and Grand Caravan?

Avenger sales were up 58% last month.  And now, Sergio (Marchionne) appears to be back-peddling a bit on his decision to get rid of the Grand Caravan name. 

What are your thoughts?

RB:  No final decisions just yet.

The Avenger had a good year and did really well last month.  It continues to do well in the marketplace.

With the Caravan, we’ve been pretty outspoken.  When you look at that vehicle, that thing commands about 70% minivan market share in Canada.  Here in the U.S., the Caravan and Town & Country combine for nearly 50% market share.

Look, that’s a segment we invented.  We’ve been the van leader for 30 years in a row.  And today’s van doesn’t much resemble the one from the 1980’s.  I think our future vans won’t resemble the vans of today either.

We’re going to continue to innovate, and continue to be competitive in that segment.

– – – – – – – –

MMM:  Dodge has seen Ram Trucks and now the Viper, both historical staples of your brand, go to other areas of the company.  How do you find balance now within the Dodge Brand absent the huge sales of Ram and the halo status of a car like Viper?

RB:  Right.  Good question.

I think with Ram, we’re getting more and more into the commercial vehicle end of the business.  We’ll be bringing commercial vans to market here in the not-too-distant future.  That’s a slightly different customer than that of the mainstream, passenger vehicle customer.

I think we need to refine that Ram Brand a little more by separating it out from Dodge.  So, I think it’s the right thing for the corporation to do.

We’re bringing the snake back!  It hurts.  Everybody wants the Viper.

But I think Ralph and the SRT Brand, likewise, were looking to take that to a different level.  I think the Viper can help any brand, but I think it’s going to be a great halo for SRT because it is truly at the extreme end of performance.  That’s really where SRT is at.  Whereas Dodge, a mainstream American brand with great muscle car heritage, is all about value and performance.

– – – – – – – –

MMM:  Reid, some important Canadian-based questions for you…

Better Canadian rock group trio: Triumph or Rush?

RB:  (Laughing loudly) I think you gotta go with Rush, right?

– – – – – – – –

MMM:  I know you’re big into hockey, Reid.  Imagine you’re the coaching the best professional hockey of all time in which you can pick the greatest starting six players from any time in history.  Who would they be?

RB:  For forwards, you have to go with Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Bobby Hull.  No, let’s forget that.  Hull just got cut.  Gordie Howe would be the third.

For defense, Bobby Orr and Chris Chelios.

At goalie, I’ve always liked Bernie Parent.  Let’s put Bernie in there, back from the Broadstreet Bully days of the Philadelphia Flyers.

– – – – – – – –

MMM:  What are you driving right now?

RB:  A Dodge Charger SRT8.


7 thoughts on “An In-Depth Chat With Dodge CEO, Reid Bigland

    1. The real prlobem is not having an analog speedo in the first place. Or is this one of those virtual video whatever displays that can be turned into other configurations? (Probably too expensive for a Dart.)

  1. I do agree! But as a Designer I can asruse you that we know that and we take care of that. The point is that today the marketing departaments rules, and as ignorants as they are… they ignore that, thinking that a dashboard is a comic magazine.

  2. that is a tough one. if you have a fnried that is a police officer he could put the vin number in and that should show the last location of the vehicles owner. i recommend that first if you know any local law enforcement that would be willing to help. once you have the vehicles owner, if he will even do that for you. call information get an adress or phone number and try to contact them. that is the only way i know. maybe there is another way. good luck

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: