Every now and then I get an email from my buddy and Chrysler consultant, Scott Vandekerckhove. Scott has a pretty cool job as he is one of a select few individuals who gets to deal with not only Chrysler on a professional level, but with their customers as well, so when he sends me a story about Chrysler events I usually can’t wait to read it. As most of you know the Woodward Dream Cruise is one of the largest and most popular show gatherings of automobile enthusiasts in the United States. It’s also a chance for the manufactures to get out there and have some good old fashion one on one time with their customers, and at this years gathering that’s exactly what Chrysler did.
Challenger Chief Engineer Makes the Woodward Dream Come True: By Scott Vandekerckhove
The Woodward Dream Cruise is one of the most incredible automotive spectacles around, attracting car lovers from all over the world who celebrate all classic and current makes and models. The diversity among cars and people is truly astonishing, and while there is technically only one official day for the Cruise, activities run for weeks on end leading up to the big day. The Dream Cruise is also one of those rare occasions where a car company can find their most loyal fan base concentrated in a relatively small area. Among the crowd this year was a collection of Dodge Challenger owners and enthusiasts who reached out to Chrysler last week hoping to gain the attention of top company brass. They wanted the chance to chat with some of the “higher-ups” and ask questions about the car they love so much.
Well, Chrysler answered the call by sending out one of their finest. None other than David Cottrell. Cottrell has been with Chrysler for 25 years, spending most of his time as a Body Engineer. He was Senior Manager for Body and Exterior during the development of the 2008 Challenger, and in June 2009 was appointed Chief Engineer of the entire Challenger Program. He is definitely the real deal. Driving all the way from the Brampton, Ontario Assembly Plant behind the wheel of his Hemi Orange R/T Classic, Cottrell met with a group of about 20 fans eager to pick his brain. For nearly two hours, the Chief Engineer answered numerous questions from the crowd.
He discussed Chrysler’s logic behind the choices they make on everything from exterior colors, to interior functionality, as well as the suppliers they select for items including brakes, exhaust, and powertrain components. Other topics included Chrysler’s use of a competitive fleet in order to establish benchmarks for Challenger’s design. Cottrell even touched on the steps taken to improve quality and durability from year-to-year production. Cottrell gushed about a drift session in a Challenger R/T with Dodge CEO Ralph Gilles at the wheel. Describing his experience in the passenger seat, Cottrell said, “We were doing about 40 mph on the track and Ralph stepped the thing out, power sliding with ease. His ability to drive a car is amazing!”
But most impressive was Cottrell’s emphasis on consumer interaction. He emphatically said that listening to Chrysler’s customers is more important than ever before. “We go ride with our consumers; watching and listening for what they say. And that’s how we build a house of quality.” Cottrell continued, “I’m on the blogs. I’m on the forums. We hear everything imaginable. Listening to consumers is the key.” The 25-year automotive veteran wrapped things up by saying, “Working on Challenger is the most fun I have had in my entire career. It’s the people who buy and drive our cars that keep it that way. And while I can’t talk about the future of the Challenger, please rest assured that you’re going to be blown away.”