Dodge is leading a revolution among performance cars
What looked like a routine lineup update actually has potential to reshape what we know about generalist and specialized brands
Among all the divisions the car market has, some are more important than the others. Body style, for example, is usually tied to buyer profile, so it’s interesting to group cars according to it. But we can also mention powertrain type (combustion, electric etc.), purpose (luxury, high performance etc.) and country as divisions, although the latter has been blurred by globalization.
Over the years, we’ve also divided makes and models in generalist and luxury. Basically, each one offers body styles, performance standards and purposes of its own, so they’re like two car markets within one. This division is particularly interesting because many automakers have tried to move its borders back and forth and, more recently, Dodge appears to have drawn a whole new border.
What are generalist and luxury?
Let’s take Renault and BMW as respective examples. Both produce crossovers, sedans and station wagons in different sizes, among others, and each one has multiple options of engine, transmission, trim and equipment. They even have their own performance brands, Renaultsport and Motorsport. However, when we compare prices, each category differs from one to the other at around 2:1.
While quality standards do differ, don’t get this wrong: generalist cars are not necessarily worse products. They are smaller, feature engines of lower output, take longer to receive new technologies but also cost less. We can safely affirm that those differences exist by design. The biggest reason why companies work with such strong market division is to specialize at different customer profiles.
Would you develop on that?
Automakers have always gone away from the generalist market by focusing on luxury. In other words, by using high-end materials in the cabin, working with higher manufacture standards and investing more in customer attention from their presence on social media to how they perform repair services. Naturally, such special experience accounts for a sizable portion of a luxury car’s price.
Over time, luxury makers have built a rather strong image in the market, but that’s not entirely positive: expectations become so high that they simply can’t release any model they want, which ends up restricting their market potential. Because of that, many companies that tried to move from one side to the other have failed. But what if there were other ways to play with those differences?
What does Dodge have to do with that?
At a first glance, a routine lineup update: dropped two models and gave a new version to the others. However, take a look at the details: the outgoing models are a minivan and an uninspiring crossover; the others are full-size sedan and SUV and a coupé; the versions were created by the SRT division to be the most powerful they’ve ever had; and the news was delivered with the video above.
Dodge is now focused on the three models which are still trendy and use high-capability platforms. If you visit its website, you’ll see each of them offers only one or two regular, value-oriented trim levels; the others offer several degrees of sportiness that get to the point of offering wide body, all-wheel drive, drag tires and supercharged engines. Everything to offer the announced 8,950 hp.
That’s a lot!
It surely is. Such bold initiative is backed by extensive changes that definitely go further than just toying with the corporate parts bin. As if it wasn’t enough, those models get new special editions all the time, always with exclusive paint jobs, new visual accessories and a rich historical background. The trio arrived around a decade ago but, as this Chronicle says, they just don’t show their age.
Now, let’s stop and analyze this. We’re talking about make and models heavily committed to a purpose, a brand from a big group creating new parts only for itself, continuous investment in customization and use of historical references and a whole dedicated customer interface. Everything with prices that simply double from base to upscale versions. Do you know what does that look like?
Is Dodge on its way to…
…become a luxury brand? Better: that’s definitely a departure from what we know as the generalist market, but in a different way. Since that’s new enough not to have a proper name, let me define using an analogy: Porsche is to Rolls-Royce as the potential Dodge is to Mercedes-Benz. Got it? Above the generalist brands through performance, not luxury, but below limited-production ones.
Is its image as strong as BMW’s or Mercedes-Benz’s? Yes, in different ways, but that’s exactly the point: they’ll never be direct rivals. If Dodge keeps going this way, it’ll cater to whoever seeks accessible performance: real upgrades beyond cosmetic accessories, the absence of luxury items to inflate the price and body styles which allow everyday use — Charger and Durango are sedan and SUV.
What obstacles could appear?
People may have a hard time forgetting the bland, unreliable Dodges available up to the mid-2010s, but it’s a matter of using marketing to show them all the information: the brand was just ranked one of the best at a J.D. Power Quality Study and the last of those cars was just dropped. The remaining ones are old, it’s true, but this whole Chronicle shows how much Dodge is working on them.
A bigger problem could be getting in Alfa Romeo’s way, FCA’s European brand whose purpose is quite similar but with slower sales. Fortunately, the solution is just as feasible concept-wise: Alfa’s image is respectable enough to render it worthwhile to make it a direct competitor of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz; in other words, to move it away from the generalist market by typical luxury.
Can Dodge revolutionize its future?
There’s no doubt in that. By simply going further with what it’s already doing, it’ll create a whole new market niche. The current cars and their replacements will make performance purer and cheaper to some extent, so they’ll make the enthusiast’s dream come true. Besides, if FCA properly works with its product management, it won’t be a problem to mitigate cases of internal competition.
With the car world getting more competitive, companies are teaming up to get stronger. However, that creates the problem of former rivals having to operate together, without snatching buyers from one another. The best solution to this is being creative and crafting new, unprecedented options. Do you think there are other brands with a similar potential for performance? Leave a comment!