ELKHART LAKE, WI – Despite the growing number of hybrids, electrics and plug-ins, a battle is being waged among those who build cars aimed at high mph – not just high mpg, aexecutive says.
That assessment comes from Ralph Gilles, CEO of’s high-performance SRT brand, at the unveiling of the ’13 Dodge Viper SRT with its 640-hp V-10 engine at the Midwest Automotive Media Assn.’s spring rally of new fuel-stingy models, many with battery assist.
"When we see a Camaro ZL1 that develops more than 500 hp and a Mustang that develops more than 600 hp, we don't get upset, because those cars create inspiration for us. People see those high-performance cars and look at me and ask, 'Ralph…?'" he says during an interview following the presentation.
"I welcome a ZL1 and a (Shelby) Mustang because if they can do it, why not us with our SRTs?"
Though Bugatti's 1,000-hp mill may be a bit much for far-less-costly, non-exotic sports cars, Gilles notes, "The ZL1 has 580 hp, the Mustang 650 hp, and so we have no choice but to compete with them."
He adds that despite high performance and the ability to run a quarter-mile (0.4 km) in less than 13 seconds, the Dodge, Chevy andrivals are all capable of 20-mpg (11.8 L/100 km) fuel economy – when not standing on the accelerator.
Other than current SRT versions of the Dodge Charger and Challenger, Chrysler 300 and Jeep Grand Cherokee, Gilles says he's been flooded with email from Dodge loyalists asking for an SRT version of the new compact Dodge Dart.
"We are looking at an SRT Dart and are interested in whether there is a business case for one. But I can't talk about it now. How soon could we have one? I can't talk about that, either," he says, smiling.
"You can always make a case for performance, but you can't go too far all at once. It's best to go higher performance in increments, so that one (rival’s) car will always be ahead of the others, but only for a while."
As for high-mileage cars, Michael Weidman, small-car marketing manager for Chevrolet, says the small Cruze is in such strong demand there have been no incentives on the car for two years, while the transaction price is about $19,000.
He says the Cruze is outselling the Silverado pickup truck and that the Cruze, as well as the new small Sonic, are key Chevy players because both have 50% conquest rates. He says the No.1 trade- in on the Cruze is theCivic, while for Sonic it's the Fiesta.
Weidman says the Sonic has more than 400,000 followers on Facebook, the most among small cars. Butsays it is going to stop advertising on the ubiquitous social-media website.
Asked whether that could hurt Sonic’s exposure, he laughs, "The decision about Facebook advertising was made at a level well above me."