If there was an FCA Mt. Rushmore, then Mark Trostle, current head of Dodge, Chrysler, and SRT design would be carved into it. The Michigan native and automotive enthusiast has been essential in leading a styling renaissance happening at the Auburn Hills-based automaker, overseeing the shaping of eye-catching such as the Dodge Challenger, Charger, and Viper. He can be found at local car meets, the race track, or highly engaging events such as Roadkill Nights this past weekend. This is where Trostle finds himself engaging with dozens, if not hundreds, of fans that are all part of Dodge’s “Brotherhood of Muscle,” and there’s no other event on earth like it. Not even the mighty Woodward Dream Cruise.
With Hellcat-powered Dodge Challenger and Charger muscle cars drifting around cones at full chat next to our table, turning rubber into noise and tire smoke, Trostle answered our questions about some of the industry hurdles and difficulties surrounding automotive design. Because let’s face it, modern regulations surrounding automobiles such as fuel economy and crash safety have a massive effect on how today’s vehicles can be shaped and styled. Yet that hasn’t deterred the near 30-year FCA design veteran from keeping things positive.
“I look at challenges as an opportunity to be creative,” said Trostle. “The regulations that continue to evolve on a vehicle from one year to the next; like fuel economy standards… aerodynamics is such a huge part of any type of car. I don’t look at them as things that upset me, I look at as: ‘how can I keep the soul of these types of cars that give people goosebumps, but still incorporate all of those things?’ If you’re creative in that way, you can do something different.”
The best example for this creativity is perhaps the 2019 Dodge Challenger. Its shape meets all of the necessary regulatory criteria to be fit for sale here in North America, yet retains a classic muscle car identity more transparently than any of its rivals. But with the incredible Dodge Challenger Shakedown Concept from SEMA 2016 on display nearby, we’re left wondering what could be.
“There’s so many things that were done on (the Challenger Shakedown Concept) that you can’t do these days because of crash requirements, and structural impact, and things like that,” mentioned Trostle as a Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat whizzed by in a fit of tire smoke. “(Today’s Challenger) encompasses the soul of that car, but it’s newer. You look at the (Shakedown Concept and 2019 Challenger), and you can see where the design came from.”
Moreover, don’t expect a radical change in future design direction for either Dodge muscle car.
“I think part of the success of the Challenger and Charger, which is phenomenal, is the magic of their designs. I wouldn’t want to ruin something that’s been so successful for us,” he said.
There are other retro-styled classics in the FCA portfolio, too, that have managed to gracefully evolve with the times.
“Another example is the Jeep Wrangler. You look at the original Wrangler, and you can see where it is today. Completely different, but still a Wrangler. The Challenger to me does the exact same thing,” said Trostle.
A large part of the styling direction for Trostle and his team is based on feedback that they get directly from the customers, thanks to events like Roadkill Nights, as opposed to questionnaires and third-party clinics that are all too-common these days.
“We are really connected with our customer. Not just on reading the survey they filled out, but coming to events like these (Roadkill Nights, Spring Fest). I know so many people that I’ll meet this week and talk to, and I think there’s a connection there that we have that lets us learn so much from them. I am always listening to what people are asking for, looking at what things people are modifying, to just inspire us and to see what we can learn from that, too.”
Another example is what Dodge did at the 2019 Spring Fest in March.
“At Spring Fest, we painted a whole bunch of Challenger shapes with some colors that we were playing with, and we actually let all of the enthusiasts vote on their favorite colors. And that helped us decide on where we want to go… some pinks and purples are in that space as well. Our cars wear them so well. It’s a trend you see, especially in the supercar world… like a bag of Skittles colors.”
The Brampton, Ontario assembly plant, where the Challenger and Charger are built, may not be able to accommodate total color customization as seen in the incredible Dodge Viper One:One program, but FCA has managed to broaden an already vivid color palette at the facility’s paint shop. Hues such as the military-inspired F8 Green, the sapphire B5 Blue, and a regal Plum Crazy are just a few examples.
The 50th anniversary of the Dodge Challenger is the 2020 model year, and we can’t wait to see what Trostle and his team have been working on next.