Stellantis is not a musical version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof set in an underwater kingdom, but actually the name of the newly merged Fiat Chrysler and PSA Group, and the fourth largest automaker in the world. The company held an event Thursday to brief investors and media on its electrification strategy, and as befits a company that represents a mishmash of Italian, American, German, and French sensibilities, it was kind of a hot mess.
The first indication that things were about to get weird was when Dodge CEO Tim Kuniskis emerged from a thick cloud of smoke produced by the squealing tires of a Dodge Challenger to present his brand’s electrification strategy.
It was a jarring transition from the previous presenter, the mild mannered Opel CEO Michael Lohscheller, standing next to a one-off restomod of the Opel Manta Model A. But I’m sure the whiplash was totally intentional. This is Dodge we’re talking about, maker of the offensively fast Demon. This is not a company known for its nuance.
Kuniskis’ job was to let Dodge customers know that the company wasn’t going to kowtow to any lame-ass electrification strategy. After all, who would want to buy a muscle car that doesn’t emit thick plumes of toxic pollution into the environment while scaring all your neighbors’ cats with its aggressive engine growl? “Dodge will not sell electric cars,” he declared. “Dodge will sell American muscle.”
But apparently that was a bit of sleight-of-hand, because it turns out that Dodge will sell an electric car. It was a little confusing, but I think it’s because Dodge is branding its future EVs as “eMuscle” cars, a hokey bit of branding that automakers tend to think sounds a lot cooler than it actually does. As if that wasn’t enough, Kuniskis went on to compare Dodge to a “hammerhead shark [that] has thrived at the top of the food chain.” (Why hammerhead? Why not a great white shark?)
Kuniskis then said that Dodge’s new mission would be “to tear up the streets, not the planet,” which brings me to the next bit of cringe from this presentation: the taglines.
Each of Stellantis’ 14 brands is getting a new motto, which range in quality from Jeep’s “Zero Emission Freedom” (sure, fine) to Opel’s “Green is the New Cool” (burn it down, salt the earth so nothing else can grow). Stellantis is a global corporation with thousands of employees and access to some of the world’s most elite market research firms. Which leads me to wonder: who are the ad wizards who came up with this one?
Speaking of Jeep, the iconic brand made some significant news today — zero-emission models in every category by 2025 — in addition to some news that was just… out there. Apparently by that same date Jeep is also promising that drones will launch out of your Wrangler, and biometric facial recognition will be used to unlock your vehicle (even though it may not technically have doors to unlock).
And by 2030, we’ll have fully autonomous Jeeps off-roading through the desert, which sounds extremely cool but also feels very “CES circa 2016,” when every company was promising fully autonomous everything without any constraints, way before Uber killed a person with its self-driving car.
It’s like Jeep hasn’t really been paying attention to the recent news on self-driving cars. We are more than a decade away from starting to see them in any significant number. Even then, the idea of autonomous vehicles that can drive anywhere, under any conditions, may never become a reality. Even Elon Musk, the king of “fake it till you make it,” admitted that autonomous vehicles are way harder than he anticipated! But sure, go off with your driverless Jeep Rubicon in the middle of the desert, without any road markings or anything.
Listen, I’m not trying to rag on Stellantis for getting weird with its EV Day. Other companies have had similar events that have mostly been stuffy and boring, so kudos to Stellantis for shooting its shot. Live every week like it’s shark week.