TheFirehouse.biz is on the road this week in Southern California where journalists are getting their first chance to drive the new Jeep ® Grand Cherokee SRT8. It’s the first four-wheel drive member of the high performance SRT family and the first Jeep branded SRT vehicle. They also had a chance to drive the other members of the SRT family, from Pasadena, north through the challenging switchbacks and climbs of the mountainous Angeles National Forest to Willow Springs International Raceway in Rosamond where they spent hours driving hot laps in the speedy SRT stable putting the cars’ ride, handling and acceleration to the test.
Always at your service, TheFirehouse interviewed John Cathcart, the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 program manager on the V-8 HEMI powered, four-wheel drive speed demon, and Dan Knott, Director of SRT and Herb Helbig, Senior Manager of Vehicle Synthesis, a major force in creating SRT, on the growing importance of high performance vehicles in the Chrysler Group’s lineup.
For full specs on SRT vehicles, go to http://cgmedia.daimlerchrysler.com or http://www.drivesrt.com/.
First up, John Cathcart on the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8.
Why an SRT version? “It’s a natural fit to put a four-wheel drive vehicle in the SRT lineup. We wanted to see what we could put to the pavement. With the Grand Cherokee we took the next step, trying to use all the power we could. We certainly couldn’t fit a 6.1 liter engine in a Liberty. We weren’t looking at the concept of an off-road vehicle but to go as fast as we can (with the Grand Cherokee SRT8)
Potential customers? Drivers aren’t going to go the top speed, but they want to go fast from stoplight to stoplight. With towing capacity at 3,500 pounds, it’s not viewed as a tow vehicle, but a daily driver. Still we wanted to make sure it had some utility—we still have to validate it as a Jeep.
Main competitors: Our main competitors are the Porsche Cayenne, Chevy TrailBlazer SS and Range Rover. It’s a growing segment.
Dan Knott, Director, Street and Racing Technology, (SRT), Chrysler Group
The SRT program gives us a fundamental competitive advantage. We have 11 vehicles, the other guys have one or two (high performance) cars. We do one after another as long as it makes business sense. You have to empower your cowboys—let ‘em run, let ‘em create ideas. Their leader has to have passion, but keep the business on a leash asking does it make sense, is it the right value?
Effect of gas prices? For performance enthusiasts, they do it no matter what the cost. For them, it’s all about going faster
SRT Sales? The 300C is sold out, the Viper is real strong and the Magnum and Charger are doing well.
Herb Helbig, Senior Manager of Vehicle Synthesis
The SRX brand has a halo effect that we’ll look to exploit as new products come up. We’ll probably do some concept cars at upcoming auto shows. SRT may expand but that’s not to say there will be SRT versions of all our vehicles, like, say, a minivan.
There’s always been a market for high performance. It’s ingrained in our culture, something we passed on to our kids.
Some people think SRT is about putting in big engines. It’s anything BUT! It’s about blending all the subsystems, bringing performance to a new level that absolutely stuns people.