We talk to passenger car brand chief Steve Beahm about what to expect
Steve Beahm took over as head of FCA passenger car brands (Dodge, SRT, Chrysler, and Fiat) for North America in February, responsible for selling and marketing once-majestic brands now struggling for relevance in an SUV-happy market. In 32 years with FCA, the Washington native has done fieldwork and supply chain management, and he led Maserati North America. He started racing at 16 and still follows the sport, so when FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne asked him to take this job, “it was a quick yes.”
Congratulations on the new job.
I started February 1, so we’re on four months, but I’ve been around the company for almost 32 years, not necessarily in this role, but in a lot of commercial roles throughout that time frame. Never in the brand. Most of my career has been in sales, in the operations side, running incentives, field operations. I had Maserati for a short period of time, as well as the supply chain.
So you have it in your blood?
I started racing with my dad when I was 16 and did it for about 20 years and only gave it up because I ran out of time. The career was taking more of my time, and I had some kids at the time so I had to give up the sport, but I still follow it today.
What were you racing?
My first car was a ’69 (Plymouth) Roadrunner and the second one was a ’70 (Dodge) Challenger. Then I went on the dark side and raced a couple GM models for a while, but I started on the Mopar side and whatever my dad had available, I was willing to drive at the time.
So you are the perfect man for this job.
When Mr. (Sergio) Marchionne (chairman and CEO of FCA) asked me, it was a quick ‘yes.’
FCA’s five-year plan centers on volume brands. What is the role of the brands you oversee?
Passenger car brands represent 20 percent of NAFTA revenue. Dodge is the biggest brand by volume and revenue. Dodge’s role is to be prominent as America’s sports car brand. That’s what we’ve labelled it in the past few years, and I truly believe that’s where the brand is at today and where it’s headed for the future.
Charger and Challenger stay on the same platform, and you just keep updating it?
There’s a lot to be said for keeping a similar platform from the standpoint of knowing the bones that you have and how to make it better. We’ve had a proven vehicle out for a period of time, and right now that would be the direction we would head and for the vehicle it’s the right thing. No full commitments, but that’s part of our direction right now.
With the Challenger, have Hellcat and Demon been a boost to visibility?
It has been. Challenger started as a 2008, then Hellcat in 2015; Demon came out as a 2018 model. And we’ve got some other stuff coming down the road. For 2019 we’re going to do a Redeye. It’s a Hellcat that’s been possessed by a Demon. It’s got a Hellcat body—basically suspension and platform—with the Demon engine. It’s calibrated a little bit differently than in the Demon, but it’s pretty much the Demon engine, so 797 horsepower. It’s a wide body, as well, so you get the 3.5-inch-wider wheels, which means more rubber on the ground.
Are those Nexen tires?
Redeye has Pirelli P Zeros. In terms of performance, the Demon was intended for the track even though it was street legal. We wanted to provide a car that wouldn’t be just on a race track or in somebody’s garage, but a car that would actually be out on the road. So the Redeye has a lot of the same features that were in the Hellcat or the Demon, performance-wise. We’re excited about it. It’s going to be a mainstream vehicle. It’s expected to sell 7 to 8 percent of our mix within Hellcat.
Will it have the transbrake, too?
It will not have the transbrake. It has line lock. Transbrake was the dragstrip piece on the Demon side, along with the suspension that was created for the Demon, so a lot of those features are not available on the Redeye.
Will it be a special edition or limited run?
It is not a special edition. I view it as no different than the Hellcat itself, other than we got an additional version with higher horsepower. It’s not limited to certain volumes. We have no limitations of the volumes right now, and we’re estimating it will be somewhere between 6 and 9 percent of Hellcat sales.
What other variants are planned?
Scat Pack: the first performance vehicle on the Challenger side. We’re going to make wide body available on the Scat Pack for the first time. The second feature is that it gets the waterfall hood from the Hellcat, and the Hellcat is going to get a dual-snorkel hood. That provides an extra 10 horsepower on the Hellcat, so it goes from 707 to 717. It’s fully functional. The left snorkel on the hood goes straight into the induction system and allows the engine to give us 10 more horsepower.
The (Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack) 1320 is another model that we will announce at the Dodge Mile High NHRA event in Denver on July 19. It’s a special model, a buzz model. The 1320 is intended to be a vehicle that someone can drive to work, but if they’re working on a Saturday they can head over to the dragstrip and take it down the track. It has a lot of features that you may have seen on the Demon or on Hellcat, that’s available as a Scat Pack. So the Scat Pack is the base model of 1320. It has 485 hp. It’s got special wheels and tires in terms of traction and capability, so the vehicle will be able to hook up in all conditions whether it be on the road or on the track. And it’s got some cool down features for someone who might be hot-lapping at the track, for the staging lanes. It will have some other cool features that will allow the vehicle to be a little bit more race-friendly for someone who is driving it to the track.
Are there other models for 1320?
No, it’s just going to be the Scat Pack for now. And Scat Pack will be the wide body whether it’s on a 1320 or not. But the only way you can get a 1320 is in a wide body off the Scat Pack. Nexen street-legal drag radials will be available, and it’ll also come with a little “Angry Bee” on it (an homage to the Dodge Super Bee). We’ll also supply some additional screens (in the instrument cluster) for setting up your car, similar to what we did with the Demon. In this case, it may not be to the same extent, but you have the capability to go in and try to set up the right balance for track conditions on the 1320.
You can keep doing that until you are limited by regulations or unable to add the tech you want?
(What stays the same) is the bones of the platform: A frames, suspension. All the other stuff underneath it will actually be all brand new in terms of our wiring harness, electrical capability. The architecture might be off the same platform—in some cases, we might make some enhancements—but everything else pretty much will be relatively all new.
Is there room to further expand the Hellcat family?
We’re always challenging our engineers. We’re always challenging our people on the marketing side to come up with what the people want. Dodge has the largest social media following of any brand, and we think we’re closer to our customers because of that. We have the most Facebook followers, most followers on Instagram and Twitter; our job is to listen to [our customers], and when we can go down some paths they want us to, if it’s good for our brand, we’ll do it. That’s a lot of what’s happened with Hellcat, Demon, and then the Redeye. A lot of the Demons are in storage rooms, a few of them are on the track. I want to see some Redeyes out on the road.
The FCA plan has the Hellcat engine going into the Ram pickup.
Yeah, we’ve got great engineers that provided us with an outstanding engine that has a bunch of performance, and the Ram guys think that’s a good fit for them to take advantage of it as well, and we’re good with that.
There were reports that the Viper is coming back.
As Mr. Marchionne indicated, the Viper is not in the [next five-year] plan.
The Viper plant no longer exists.
It does not. It is being modified for meetings, as a conference center, and a way to display some of our cars.
Does SRT remain as a brand?
It’s a brand that’s very important to Dodge. As America’s performance brand, SRT has to be the organization that continues to push us on the edge of performance. It’s that fine line of putting it on the track and driving it on the street. The SRT engineering team continues to find ways to provide us that performance level that our competitors can’t match.
Durango has performance versions.
Absolutely. It has an SRT version, so don’t underestimate the Durango. The Journey may be a little different, but the Durango SRT is one impressive vehicle.
So Durango fits with what you are trying to do with Dodge.
How do Journey, Caravan, and Durango still fit in Dodge? Or do they have a long-term role?
They have a role through the ’19 model year. We don’t talk much beyond that. But being America’s performance brand, long term, [some of the vehicles] may not fit.
When does the Grand Caravan go away?
We haven’t announced the end of production. It’s going to be through the 2019 model year, like the Journey, at this point.
Was the Magnum ahead of its time? It fits the Dodge persona now.
We had a couple trendsetters: the original Pacifica and then the Magnum. They’re both unique vehicles. We’ve actually looked at it, but at this stage we’re not headed down that path.
Is Chrysler the minivan brand?
I view it as people movers. The Pacifica is the anchor of the brand. It’s an outstanding vehicle, good for us to build upon. We’re looking for other opportunities. It’s my job to find ways for that brand to grow.
A Pacifica-based corssover was delayed. Is it still in the plan?
It’s not in the future plans Mr. Marchionne spoke about so I can’t give more details about that.
Do you stop making the Chrysler 300 but keep the Dodge large cars?
The 300 goes through the ’19 model year. If you step back and say, ‘Does it fit people movers?’ it does from the sedan standpoint, but not from a utility.
Can Chrysler survive with just a minivan?
It’s my job to look for opportunities—in a profitable way—to build on the Pacifica. Waymo agreed to buy 62,000 [Pacifica hybrids for their autonomous vehicle fleet]. I want to build on that and add Chrysler products.
Waymo is a great partnership.
I look forward to that relationship. I think it’s good for both of us.
Are there plans to take Dodge and Chrysler international? Are they NAFTA-only brands?
The passenger cars for Dodge and Chrysler are NAFTA influenced heavily, way north of 90 percent, and that will continue moving forward.
Is Fiat’s product line streamlined for North America?
The product plan is driven from EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa). Our job is to identify what models work for the U.S. and NAFTA. We’ll take products they build in Europe, homologate them, and they’ll be electric with a high percent of them hybrids.