The Dodge brand is a bit of a conundrum, and it doesn’t help that for 2021 it has been reduced to three vehicles: Two aging muscle cars and a large three-row SUV. (The Grand Caravan minivan kinda-sorta lives on—or at least keeps getting stays of execution, but is slated to die.) As FCA heads into a merger with PSA Group, creating the fourth-largest automaker in the world made, the chances of the new entity culling brands from its extensive portfolio seem rather high. It ultimately begs the question: Will Dodge survive in the long-term? Or even the medium-term?
We talked to Tim Kuniskis, who oversees Dodge as part of his role as head of passenger cars for FCA North America, about the future of the American mark. While Dodge is adding ever more trims and high-output variations to its Challenger, Charger, and Durango model lines, it’s also sending two of its nameplates to the great scrap heap in the sky. Here, we’ve gathered what Kuniskis cites as Dodge’s redeeming qualities and business state moving forward:
Goodbye Dodge Journey and Grand Caravan
Gone for the 2021 model year are the Dodge Journey crossover and the Dodge Grand Caravan minivan. For the three years, Kuniskis stated the models don’t fit Dodge’s DNA, but sales remained strong and the two people movers managed to avoid the chopping block. Until now, that is. “We’re at the point where we drew a line in the sand and said, ‘this is it, this is the last year, we’re not going to do them anymore,’” Kuniskis shared, adding that neither the pandemic nor the merger pushed the decision.
Still, Kuniskis sees a role for Dodge after the merger of FCA and PSA is complete, and he noted the beauty of a “house of brands” is that it affords each to have its own unique and separate identity in the marketplace. In short, no individual brand needs to try to be all things to all customers.
Hellcat Won’t Meet Future Regulations in the Durango
The brand chief also knows his muscle cars are subject to criticism for being old and for having what some see as ridiculous power. We’re not sure who thinks there is a such thing as too much horsepower, especially democratized at relatively affordable price points, but hey. Dodge adding a Hellcat engine to its Durango family SUV is more red meat for the critics. But Kuniskis knows Dodge customers appreciate the brand’s one-upmanship mentality. The brand, and FCA, practically lives and breathes on the saying “Hellcat all of the things,” which circulates in some enthusiast circles—leading even designer Ralph Gilles to sketch a Hellcatted Chrysler Pacifica minivan in what wasn’t clearly a joke.
Even if it is only temporary, as is the case with the Durango Hellcat, which will be offered only for the 2021 model year due to the engine being unable to meet tougher regulations coming for the 2022 model year, power is integral to Dodge’s image. Luckily, it isn’t the Hellcat engine per se, that can’t meet regulations—but the combination of the powerplant and the Durango’s platform. In other words, the supercharged Hemi is still good to go in the Challenger and Charger for the 2022 model year (and the foreseeable future). Whew!
Five years after its introduction in the Challenger Hellcat, the high-horsepower engine is showing no signs of slowing down. It has in that time found its way into a total of almost 40,000 Dodge vehicles. In fact, the engine assembly plant can barely keep up with demand. “There’s no way we could have called that. We have scrambled many times to increase capacity,” Kuniskis said.
Dodge Won’t Go Quietly
“At some point, something will have to change, there’s no question,” Kuniskis confessed. “I’m not going quietly into that new reality. The requirements get more stringent every single year and, at some point, we gotta do something.” Still, the brand’s head wouldn’t share if a next-generation Charger or Challenger, both of which currently ride on a platform that dates back to 2005, are in the works. Nor would Kuniskis elaborate when asked if there are additional future models planned for Dodge.
Nevertheless, the brand will—in time—embrace electrification and the performance potential that electric motors can provide. Dodge does not need to fully shift to battery electric vehicles, Kuniskis said, as gasoline-electric hybrids provide the torque, power, and visceral driving experience befitting the brand’s DNA. Good thing, too, because clearly, Dodge is relying on that high-octane DNA to justify its existence.