INTERVIEW: Dodge CEO Tim Kuniskis
Dodge showcased its past, present, and future during Speed Week at the M1 Concourse in Pontiac, last week. CEO Tim Kuniskis held court over three nights of product unveilings, dubbed Current Muscle, Gateway Muscle, and Future Muscle.
Banking on one more year, Kuniskis reintroduced the 2023 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat and multiple Challenger and Charger iterations of the final Dodge V-8s before production culminates at the end of 2023. Gateway Muscle showcased the 2023 Dodge Hornet small crossover in turbo-4 and plug-in hybrid variants. But the final night, Future Muscle, won the web with the launch of the stunning two-door Dodge Charger Daytona SRT Concept.
With a 1980s hair metal cover band rocking to a crowd of Dodge enthusiasts and automotive journalists, Kuniskis took time away from the party to talk with Motor Authority
about the American performance brand’s current and electric future.
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 (gas) tank, we had to change the software, we had to change the evaporative emission control system
, we had to change a lot of stuff to make it more than one model year. The reaction was beyond our expectation. We had 3k orders…for a very expensive UV I couldn’t fill. Let’s be honest, it’s a publicly traded company. I have an obligation to the shareholders to make as much money as I can. So how do I look at shareholders and go, "Yeah I have 3k people willing to spend 85k for an SUV," and I told them sorry, too bad? It’s a tough call, but at the same time it’s not a very tough call. So I’m sorry that I made people mad but it’s two years later and because of the reaction and the 3k orders and the engineers had some time, and they got creative and figured it out.
We don’t sell a single car that anyone needs. If I have an opportunity to bring a car back to market that people love, I have to do it. I don’t wanna piss anyone off, but if I have 3k orders cash in hand, I gotta do it.
With the supply constraints and reports of some dealers charging more, the release of the seven “Buzz model” Chargers and Challengers is going to be a free for all, isn’t it?
Well, I have no control over what a dealer charges. But, if I put on my website where every single car is, now you 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 does the transition from gas models to electric vehicles affect Dodge dealers? What are the growing pains of the two-year wait until you release your first electric car?
During the two years I gotta keep selling all the cars I got, because I have a rabid passionate base of people who love these cars. Then I got other people who are like, "Hey, what are you doing for electrification? I’m interested. What are you bringing?" I gotta keep them both happy. The same thing is happening 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 I didn’t want to bring the car (Charger Daytona EV Concept) out in 2024 and say, "Hey it’s great, take my word for it." I wanted to bring it out way in advance so you guys can all talk about it.
Dodge Charger Daytona Concept
How does the Dodge Charger Daytona’s Fratsonic Chambered Exhaust work?
The noise that a car makes today is like a mystical thing for 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 the sound of your brand. The sound that 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 to a cathedral and you’ve seen a pipe organ...and heard this amazing sound, and instantaneously whether you know or not your brain makes a connection between the pipes, the air, and the sound, and it makes sense. I said I want that. I want to take what makes sound in a car today, am I at idle, am I accelerating, how much pedal am I giving it, am I under extreme load, am I shifting…all of the stuff that changes the pitch and the tone and the volume of air that’s creating the sound of the car. I want to take all those inputs that all exist on an electric car and I want to feed those 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’d move a piston, and that piston then moves air inside a tube. That tube then feeds a chamber, that chamber has chambers inside it, and then a huge ass exhaust pipe out the back.
Now what happens is you hear 126 decibels out the back of the car. The spatial difference between outside the car and behind you at movement is like the first time you ever went in and heard surround sound.
You mentioned the algorithm…what is the electronic component?
We take all those inputs, then have to translate if that were movement of air inside 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 if you think about the screaming shrill of a banshee, it’s almost like a jet engine, but yet it’s not. It’s wicked but yet it’s not, but it’s a badass sound. You couldn’t live with that all the time. That’s your wide open, screaming, I’m on the highway, I’m getting on it sound. But when you let off of that, or when you’re shifting, or it’s burbling, or anything like that, it comes back to a tone. And that tone is what we believe is the game changer. The bass track of this sound is literally the cadence of the firing order of a Hemi V-8. It doesn’t sound like a V-8, but when you hear it, you’re like something is making me comfortable, something makes me feel like I’m OK with this. Yet, it sounds modern, fresh, and really cool.
Explain the multi-speed transmission in the Charger Daytona Concept.
Multi-speed is an electromechanical system. We’re shifting it mechanically with gears and we’re shifting it electronically. If you think about what happens today in a Hellcat, you’re going to complete a shift, slip a clutch, change a drum, and go into a different gear ratio in 250 milliseconds. What stops me from doing that in an EV? Absolutely nothing.
I can instantaneously pull out torque for 250 milliseconds and add torque back in to give you a shift. Will it make your car faster? No. Will it make your car way more fun to drive? Hell yeah.
You’re not going to say how many speeds?
No. Not done with it yet. Funny thing about it is the engineers will be the first to tell you. A single-speed EV is by far the most efficient. It’s amazing technology. Using multi-speeds is not going to make the car faster.
It’s going to make it heavier too.
It’s going to make it heavier, and it’s adding cost, and it’s adding development. But it’s also going to add way more fun to the car.
Multi-speed also gives me the advantage of taking advantage of more traction. So let’s just say, theoretically, if I had…an option for some really big, really sticky tires, and I could really launch the car hard, then multi-speed would really be a benefit. Theoretically. I mean. It’s a concept after all.
Of course. Theoretically. You guys haven’t done anything like that before.
No. That would be irresponsible.
2023 Dodge Hornet
What is different about the Dodge Hornet chassis from 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 shift character 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 now that we have Direct Connection, everything that we do we’re looking at it with an eye towards future modifications.
When we started working on this car we knew we wanted to have Direct Connection for a GLH. I could have done a GLH through Direct Connection and say, hey you need these halfshafts, you need this, you need that. It would have been a fortune. Or it’s single dollars to put it in the base car and give you the option to go up from there. Which, by the way, is the same thing we’re doing with the Daytona. We’re planning it all from day one.
What is the advantage of the three-link rear suspension on the Hornet and how is it different than the Tonale’s?
Mechanically and hardware, same, (but) all of the tuning is different. If you haven’t been involved in that it’s easy to discard that but it makes a huge difference. I’ve been driving those cars since the initial mules and from where they are today from where we started…after a year we’re getting into a space 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
What are you gonna miss when the Challenger and Charger and Durango end production as we know them?
I’m excited for the challenge going forward. These cars are amazing. I can say that. I own one, I invested my personal money in one. They’re great cars. But they’re unsustainable in today’s market. I hate to say it, but it’s a fact. So, If they’re unsustainable, it would be very easy for us to say Dodge can’t make it, Dodge can’t exist, Dodge can’t be what Dodge is, therefore let’s take our toys and go home.
What’s exciting to me is to look at the future and go OK, just like any racer, gimme the rule book and let me find the gray areas that I can exploit to bring you something fun that is a true Dodge. This has happened many times in the industry…as soon as you give them the better mousetrap everything changes. You don’t go from 5% EV to 30% EV without a better mousetrap. The onus is on us. It’s on the infrastructure, the policy makers gotta bring the infrastructure. And the car manufacturers gotta give you something better than what you have. Otherwise it’ll never work.
Dodge Charger Daytona Concept
What are the key characteristics moving Dodge forward into this next generation of vehicles?
Think about where we were a decade ago. Our top of the line car was 425 hp. We were outgunned in the horsepower war. We were bigger, heavier, and we didn’t handle, and we were severely outgunned in horsepower. Did we get a new car? Nope. Did we make the car lighter? Nope. We just kept tweaking the car.
Half of my volume is Pentastars (V-6 engines; Kuniskis made clear that sales numbers don’t favor Hellcats.) You’re buying into something bigger than the purchase of a car. That’s why we say performance is an attitude. Whether your car is propelled by a PHEV, gas, electric (powertrain), it doesn’t matter. If I can give you the attitude and personality of something bigger than that car, it will be fine. If I can’t do that, then I fail and it doesn’t work.
Dodge CEO Tim Kuniskis talked with Motor Authority about the end of the Hellcats, the move to electrification, and how it will all work.