How do you feel about Tavares’ leadership style?
I think he’s pretty straightforward. For me, I like that. I think he’s not afraid to take a stance and position. I think his style is good. I like his ability to make a decision. I also like his ability to listen, I think he does listen. And that’s an important part. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to get what you want.
One of the big things that Tavares is pushing for is for all of your brands to really embrace EVs. One of the goals for the US is for 40 percent of Stellantis sales to be electrified by 2030. Do you think that’s a realistic goal?
This is one of those things that is really controlled by Stellantis, the manufacturer. It’s not something that we can control. What we want are the best possible products, whether it be EV, or internal combustion engines, or whatever the case may be.
The other part of this is I think it’s going to be driven by the consumer. Does the consumer want us to have 40 percent EV vehicles by 2030? I don’t know. And I’m not sure anybody knows that for sure. I think that, however, it’s based on regulations and all that. We have to be prepared to meet the standard for sure. If we’re going to be engaged, the real mandate should be we should have the best in the business. We should be able to provide the best EV, the best performance, the highest quality. Yeah, I think it’s possible. The question is, is it necessary? I think the customer is the one that makes that decision.
Do you think there’s a chance that Stellantis could try to tone down that goal in the years to come if it sees that the demand is not there?
It’s a cooperative effort. Will our political leaders allow for there to be something that would make 40 percent not necessary? That’s the other part of this. I think Tavares said it well: EVs are not an industry idea, it’s a political idea. I want the free market to decide what kind of cars we should have, and then it’s incumbent upon the OEM to deliver.
Stellantis is saying part of the 40 percent will be plug-in hybrids. Do you think plug-in hybrids are the best way to go when it comes to trying to transition customers to electric vehicles?
You hit on what I believe. We should be able to, in this country, in this time, with this technology, to be able to do both, right? We should be able to have a gasoline engine. We should be able to have electric engines. And if we can put them both on the same platform, why not? We shouldn’t legislate out something that the consumer wants, and we’ve figured out how to make it pretty clean.
I think hybrid gives people the option to use gasoline and electric. That’s a great idea. I also think having a fleet of vehicles that maybe some percentage of every one of them has electric because I think there are people who do want electric and I think there are people who want gasoline. If a manufacturer makes a car and they offer three different powertrains, why can’t one of them be EV?
FCA didn’t really do much on the EV side, and now all of a sudden, you have these ambitious goals to put out a ton of EVs over the next decade. How does it feel to be a part of that transition?
I’ve felt this coming for quite some time. Was it going to be something that we did as the former FCA, was it going to be in cooperation with somebody else? There was never any doubt about whether we were going to be doing something like this. I think the question was, with who?
But this sort of thing. If you go back to the [Sergio] Marchionne comments, he envisioned a bigger company like this. I think this was the ultimate goal. I never believed that this wasn’t going to come, it just was a matter of with who.
Do you feel the company is too late to the party when it comes to EVs, or are you right on time?
I think we’re no worse than right on time. There’s still a significant infrastructure that needs to be done in our country to be able to accommodate this. We don’t have that all worked out yet. At best, we would be fashionably late.
Speaking of EVs, this is going to be a huge transition for some of your brands — in particular Dodge and Jeep. How do you feel about an electric Dodge muscle car? Does that fit the brand?
As far as Dodge goes, there’s no question of what the Dodge brand is. I think these guys are crazy in a good way. They will figure out how to be the crazy performance leader, whether it’s naturally aspirated engines, EV or windmill-powered. That’s just who they are. So I think that the Dodge brand will not lose its identity in whatever EV applications come its way. They’ll figure out how to outperform the world in doing so. That’s not hyperbole. That’s not propaganda. I believe that. These guys are nuts, and they figure it out all the time. I’m an old guy, I guess. I’m a traditional performance guy, but I look forward to their creativity, honestly.
For Jeep, they already have the Wrangler 4xe. How’s that vehicle doing for you in Florida?
Really well. The consumer really likes it. I just sold one yesterday, actually; the guy is really a performance guy. He just really liked the idea. We tend to put people in boxes, right and say, “Well, this is who buys these things.” “This is the person, this is the market.” I think it’s really broader, it has a much broader appeal. The 4xe so far, for me, has been a far less pigeon-hole demographic and a far more wider appeal. That’s what we’ve experienced so far. Great success. No issues. People love it. And we love it too because our current inventory is zero in stock. It’s working.
Are you seeing that the vehicle is attracting new customers to Jeep and the Wrangler?
It has, yeah. I think some people are very passionate about the electric option. Others are, “Hey, I just want to try it. I’m a Jeep person, but I want to see what this is all about.” I would have thought when this whole thing started that it was going to be a very strict, tight demographic, and it’s not. There’s a lot more people looking at it and ultimately purchasing them than I would have thought. I would have thought it was just kind of a niche, almost, but [that’s] not the case.
In a couple of months, the Grand Cherokee 4xe is coming out. What are your thoughts on that one?
I would tend to think that one will have an even more mass appeal. You’ll get a lot of people I think that will be attracted to the Grand Cherokee that are not of the typical Jeep family. We’ll have our loyalty people, for sure, but I think you’re going to see a lot of other people in this one.
Do you think the people who are buying the 4xe Jeeps right now will be the ones to transition first to the full EV Jeeps when those are available?
I thought, once you’re [an] EV-hybrid [buyer], you’re always going to be in some version of that, right? That’s kind of the way I would have thought people, once they made that step, they would always stay on that platform; some version of electrification, but it’s not the case. We’ve had several people who’ve traded competitively makes in that are either hybrid or full EV on gas engines, so that surprises me as well.
We’re all learning what this means. We all are learning who the customer is and what they’re thinking and how they adjust to the nuances of EV. My son, who is a race car driver, he likes the EV stuff. When I was his age, I would have looked at you cross-eyed if we had that sort of technology. I was all about hot rodding. At the same time, [my son] goes out and breeds naturally aspirated engines and loves it. I think the cool thing is, that’s what I said earlier, I believe that it’s not as narrow as what maybe we all originally thought.
Back to Dodge. How does it feel to lose the Hellcat in a couple years?
Maybe the Hellcat name gets changed to something else. I don’t know. I’m not sure that the name itself, I’m not as passionate about the name as I am [about] the performance. What I believe is there will still be performance — whether it’s a Hellcat or something else these guys dream up one night. I would say that my confidence is in their ability to provide performance vehicles in whatever that fashion is.
Stellantis just released the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer a few months ago. How is the public reacting to them?
Really well. Just very exciting. It’s not new ground. If you go back in the day, we had full-sized vehicles like that. But certainly in the modern era, this has been a long time coming, and we’re thrilled by it. The thing is beautiful. It wrinkles amazing. It’s funny. I grew up in a horsepower race. And we still sort of talk about the horsepower as a race, but the technology race is off the chart. This thing is shock full of technology; stuff you couldn’t dream of. I’m thrilled by it. I’ve been driving [a Wagoneer] for a couple months and I would have to say that is the best driving vehicle I’ve ever driven.
They’re going to put out the extended-wheelbase version of the Wagoneer this year. Do you think there’s a market for an even bigger Wagoneer?
Well, I think that if you look at some of the competitors, they have larger ones. I do think there will be people who would like a larger, longer vehicle. I think it will certainly be a smaller percentage.
If you could sit down with Carlos Tavares today, what would you tell him about what you need as a dealer?
I think the first thing I’d do is talk to him about racing. He’s a racer, he loves racing, I like racing. So I’d say let’s talk some racing.
And then as a dealer, I think the part that I would emphasize is that we’re the front lines with the consumer. We all want the best possible consumer experience. And I think, believe it or not, what I’m going to say about this is that we have a job to do as the dealer body, and the manufacturer has a job to do as the manufacturer, and sometimes you’ve got to be careful not to get in each other’s way.
I’m not going to go up there and tell them how to manufacture a new car. That would be a bad idea. I could talk about what things the consumer is talking about that they want, but for me to go get engaged in the manufacturing process would just be stupid.
One thing I know about Stellantis dealers, formerly known as Chrysler dealers and FCA and all that other stuff, is they are an extraordinary group of people, very entrepreneurial, great thinkers, resilient and worth listening to. I think this is in [Tavares’] DNA, by the way. I think he really does value the dealer input, so I’m looking forward to it.
Give us the best products out there. He’s already making decisions as it relates to captive finance. I think the company becoming as big a company as it is, will help us a little bit more with supply chain and being more on the top of the list, getting what we need, getting the quality we need. That’s the stuff that we as dealers have no control over.
But it affects us. Even down to how long it takes to get a car after it’s built. We don’t have any control over that. We are totally dependent and totally dependent upon the OEM for that. So there’s some things I think they can do that will help our world, which ultimately helps enhance the customer experience.