Dodge CEO Hints at Second Malaise Era, Blames Regulation

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
dodge ceo hints at second malaise era blames regulation

Dodge CEO Tim Kuniskis has repeatedly suggested that electrification would be a keystone trait of tomorrow’s automobiles. But he never sounds truly gleeful about the prospect, injecting the level of joy one might reserve when announcing that the trip to the grocery store after noticing spartan shelves in the kitchen. Kuniskis is aware that Dodge’s lineup caters heavily to automotive size queens and that its ability to manufacture those models is swiftly coming to a close.

Despite the former FCA giving the brand the go-ahead to manufacture V8-equipped behemoths like the Hellcat, the newly formed Stellantis auto group may be less inclined to continue those efforts and the freshly installed Biden administration seems wholly committed to doubling down on environmental regulations that were already at odds with high-output automobiles. Kuniskis typically stops short of discussing these issues as the death knell for automotive performance, suggesting instead that electrification will open new doors for the industry while closing a few others. But he occasionally issues statements hinting that he’s not quite so enthralled with or as hopeful about EVs as his contemporaries.

Referencing our current era as the Second Golden Age of the muscle car to CNBC, Kuniskis seemed confident that electric vehicles would eventually surpass internal combustion vehicles in all measurable respects. But he made it clear that this would only happen after the vehicles went down in price, saw their associated technologies improve, and had become commonplace with a robust charging infrastructure that doesn’t yet exist.

“The whole world is going to shift to electrification, right? We know this is coming,” he told the outlet. “The whole world’s going get there and when it does, the price point of that technology is going to come down and … the crazy people are going to take the electrification that has now become accessible from a price point and make that performance-based instead of economy-based.”

But gasoline-reliant performers might become a casualty with no direct heir until electrics manage to achieve a true parity — especially if governments and the industry place the progress desired too far ahead of progress already made. Dodge’s CEO compared 2021 to the period foreshadowing the notorious Malaise Era (1973-1983), where the U.S. Federal Government began requiring new safety improvements (making vehicles heavier) with aggressive efficiency mandates (mitigating fuel usage). This resulted in a bevy of garbage tier performance vehicles and a slew of mainstream models that were often slower than their predecessors and sometimes burnt more fuel.

“1972 was the beginning of the end of the Golden Age of muscle cars,” Kuniskis said. “They went away for fuel economy, for the oil crisis. They went away for safety. They went away for insurance, and they went away for increasing emission standards. It’s kind of crazy to think about we’re getting close to a similar list of things right now.”

President Biden has already issued orders stalling new oil drilling on federal lands and has decided to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline that was formerly under construction. While dismantling the oil industry entirely is unrealistic, the current administration still has lofty environmental goals and most analysts are predicting steadily increasing energy prices. Some of the assumed regulatory changes may also run the risk of ending the United States’ ability to remain energy independent, potentially opening it up to another 1973-style oil crisis.

Kuniskis may not be having nightmares about the Dodge Aspen R/T rising from its grave to seek its slow and inefficient revenge. But he does appear to appreciate what Dodge has managed to achieve ahead of new regulations. By returning to the classic American formula of sticking large motors into big automobiles, the brand has managed to raise the performance bar for both itself and its domestic rivals without needing to saddle its products with six-figure window stickers.

“What Hellcat has done is way beyond what our initial expectations were because it’s way beyond what a traditional, very high-end trim does,” Kuniskis said. “In the last five years or so, we’ve sold well over 50,000 Hellcats. That’s a lot of Hellcats in five years if you think about you know the price point of that car.”

Whether Dodge’s future trajectory will remain focused on maximizing vehicle performance per dollar, Kuniskis believes EVs should eventually be able to surpass all benchmarks set by the internal-combustion engine. But he knows the party is probably ending for vehicles like the Hellcat.

“The days of an iron block supercharged 6.2-liter V8 are numbered,” he confessed during his interview. “They’re absolutely numbered because of all the compliance costs. But the performance that those vehicles generate is not numbered.”

[Image: Dodge]

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  • Superdessucke Superdessucke on Feb 02, 2021

    Ok, so can we please, for the love of all that's Holy, stop pretending that SUVs are performance cars which need 45 series tires, 21" rims, and black trim and go back to the luxury decor packages of the '70s now? Finally? More appropriate and probably greater sales.

  • Ponchoman49 Ponchoman49 on Feb 03, 2021

    I'm thinking the Malaise is not what we have available currently for performance but more in what we are inevitably losing with the endless government mandates and interference. V6 and V8 engines, sound, feel, stick shift transmissions, pony cars and coupes will all be casualties and even the normal sedan is at risk. And lets face it if cars like the Camaro, Charger, Challenger, 300 and Mustang GT are all killed off and turned into electric blobby SUV's we will have lost that type of styling as well. It will also be interesting to see what these much ballyhooed electric cars for the everyday buyer will look like price wise. Considering one car still walk into a car dealer and buy a new Elantra for between 16995-17995 or a Fusion for under 20K or a new Sentra for well under 20K with many other lower cost examples I won't get into. I'm having serious doubts an electric car of similar size is going to sell new for anywhere near that price even 10 years down the road. So add that to the list. Time will tell

  • Lou_BC "They are the worst kind of partisan - the kind that loves their team more than they want to know the truth."Ummm...yeah....Kinda like birtherism, 2020 election stolen, vast voter fraud, he can have top secret documents at Mar-lago, he's a savvy business man, and hundreds more.
  • FreedMike This article fails to mention that Toyota is also investing heavily in solid state battery tech - which would solve a lot of inherent EV problems - and plans to deploy it soon. course, Toyota being Toyota, it will use the tech in hybrids first, which is smart - that will give them the chance to iron out the wrinkles, so to speak. But having said that, I’m with Toyota here - I’m not sold on an all EV future happening anytime soon. But clearly the market share for these vehicles has nowhere to go but up; how far up depends mainly on charging availability. And whether Toyota’s competitors are all in is debatable. Plenty of bet-hedging is going on among makers in the North American market.
  • Jeff S I am not against EVs but I completely understand Toyota's position. As for Greenpeace putting Toyota at the bottom of their environmental list is more drama. A good hybrid uses less gas, is cleaner than most other ICE, and is more affordable than most EVs. Prius has proven longevity and low maintenance cost. Having had a hybrid Maverick since April and averaging 40 to 50 mpg in city driving it has been smooth driving and very economical. Ford also has very good hybrids and some of the earlier Escapes are still going strong at 300k miles. The only thing I would have liked in my hybrid Maverick would be a plug in but it didn't come with it. If Toyota made a plug in hybrid compact pickup like the Maverick it would sell well. I would consider an EV in the future but price, battery technology, and infrastructure has to advance and improve. I don't buy a vehicle based on the recommendation of Greenpeace, as a status symbol, or peer pressure. I buy a vehicle on what best needs my needs and that I actually like.
  • Mobes Kind of a weird thing that probably only bothers me, but when you see someone driving a car with ball joints clearly about to fail. I really don't want to be around a car with massive negative camber that's not intentional.
  • Jeff S How reliable are Audi? Seems the Mazda, CRV, and Rav4 in the higher trim would not only be a better value but would be more reliable in the long term. Interior wise and the overall package the Mazda would be the best choice.