MM: What about rear-wheel drive cars beyond the trucks and the Viper?JF: We do have a plan for upcoming rear-wheel-drive releases, but at this time, we are focused primarily on vehicles like SRT-4 and SRT-10, where we are closer to production. One thing we have done already is look at all of the different platforms' planning for the next 5-7 years. In terms of powertrains, we want to eventually have a PVO four-cylinder engine, a PVO six-cylinder engine, a PVO eight-cylinder engine, and a PVO 10-cylinder engine. We will upgrade other areas of the platform as needed; with the SRT-4, we upgraded the brake system because the car would be faster. With the SRT-10 models, we are looking at the entire driveline since that vehicle will be getting 500 horsepower and parts will have to be sufficient for that. Incidentally, the warranties on PVO cars will still be the same as other models; even the Viper is on the 7-year/70,000 mile program.
MM: From a personnel standpoint, this is sort of a new experiment. How has that transition been?JF: In one of our town hall meetings, Wolfgang Bernhard came in and talked about PVO and what his dreams were for it. Then, at the North American Auto Show, Jim Schroer (Executive Vice President, DaimlerChrysler Sales and Marketing) got up and before he began talking about new products or anything else, he talked about what PVO was and what we were going to be doing here. I think those things really woke a lot of people up about how serious we as a corporation are about this group.
Moreover, the organization has real plans for us. That was always a bit of a problem for Team Viper and Team Prowler; the cars became bigger than the people building them. With PVO, we want the people to be seen as the reason for our product's creations and execution; PVO will be identified with performance on any platform.
We stress here that when we go racing, it is a whole team effort. There may be a few people who are more visible, but everyone involved in that effort can take pride in their contribution to it. It's not just the guys who are actually there when the racing happens.
It was interesting to me at the L.A. Auto Show to see that people were really taken aback, saying "Hey, you really are going to go after this import market." That's the idea. When we first started producing Neon, we were building 300,000 units and had two shifts running at Belvidere [Illinois]; that has gone down, but the Neon is still as good a car as any in its price range. Cars like the SRT-4 will be built to make that vehicle name and design stand out. In that regard, we also see PVO bringing that halo effect to the entire vehicle line, just as Viper has done and does for the Dodge nameplate.
MM: Who do you see as PVO's peers or competition?JF: John Coletti at Ford SVT with the Cobra Mustang and Lightning truck has done a very good job of having an organization that is visible. At GM, there are visible projects but it seems to be done by different people; you really can't tell whose doing what there. They're trying to get focused right now. In Europe, it is Mercedes AMG; they know exactly what they are doing to position their product, and they are very successful at it. The Japanese have done a little bit, but most of it has been done on the outside through aftermarket support. One thing Honda does do that we would like to do is use our motorsports involvement to show what we are capable of, to expose our products in advertising and to the public through racing successes in a bigger way.
MM: Do you see PVO building complete vehicles from the ground up?JF: We are a smaller platform team. Viper was about 40 people; we have about 120; but a really big platform might be 700 or more people. It must be remembered that the larger platforms have a broader range of responsibilities with a product, and they create the baseline that we will work on for performance.