Date Posted: 10-31-2005 Ford showrooms will remain void of performance-oriented SVT models until next year when the 2007 Ford Shelby GT500 begins production in the summer. The 2008 Ford Sport Trac Adrenalin follows, going into production in 2007. Over at General Motors, the portfolio of specially designated performance vehicles is more extensive than Ford's, but is a mishmash, ranging from the successful Cadillac V-Series line to the SS label being slapped on even the Chevrolet Malibu Maxx, a family hauler with a short future. Meantime, across town at Chrysler, its SRT (Street and Racing Technology) group is launching a trio of new, credible vehicles — the Viper SRT-10 Coupe, the Dodge Charger SRT-8 and the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8 — bringing its product portfolio to 11 models, by SRT's count, with annual sales totaling about 50,000 vehicles — and with every one of them making money. SRT isn't the household name that Hemi is — or that BMW's M Series, Mercedes-Benz's AMG or Chevrolet's Corvette are — but it should be. And that's the goal, says Dan Knott, who has been director of SRT since it was established nearly four years ago. Instead of going outside for performance car development, Chrysler created SRT by merging the Viper and the motorsports engineering groups with the Mopar performance parts operation. SRT's mission is straightforward: "Build vehicles that provide enthusiasts with an outlet for their passion," as Knott says, or, simpler yet, deliver the best performance for the best price. "We want customers to say 'I can't believe they did that,'" he adds. Knott, a mechanical engineer by education, was brought in at the start to head the now 150-employee team, which is broken into 8-to-10-person project teams and includes contract workers and suppliers. His task, as he describes it, is to "empower the cowboys." "We let the nuts play a little bit and don't ruin the entrepreneurial spirit, but we run it with processes like a business." That way, he notes, SRT has the staying power many entrepreneurial enterprises lack and doesn't peak and crash like hula-hoop makers. As Chrysler's director of material cost management, Knott learned how to run a business from a pro — Chrysler's former COO Wolfgang Bernhard, now at Volkswagen trying to whip it into financial shape. Previously, Knott had more interesting job titles, like vehicle development director for the Chrysler PT Cruiser and 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee. Knott loves fast cars, though the only fast transportation in his personal garage is a BMW motorcycle. He has at his fingertips an intriguing array of high-performance cars at SRT's headquarters, located in the shadow of Chrysler's giant Auburn Hills towers. He takes pride in the fact that SRT vehicles make money. "Fifteen years ago, we would have done those cars and lost money on every single one, but would convince ourselves we'd make it up in volume or as a halo effect." Chrysler's overall reduction of its costs helps SRT, which charges a premium for its models. Also contributing is parts sharing within SRT and within DaimlerChrysler worldwide. For instance, the 6.1-liter Hemi V8 is the same engine used in all SRT-8 models, bringing the total volume to 25,000 engines a year. Parts are borrowed from base models when possible. For instance, the seat frames for the Grand Cherokee SRT-8 is from the Commander but bolstered with different foam and trim. Every SRT vehicle must have five elements: a bold exterior; performance-oriented interior with bolstered seats and a grippy steering wheel; balanced ride and handling that "won't beat your brains out" commuting but will turn a good lap time at the track; exceptional braking; a powerful engine; and credibility. "We will always be conservative in our 0-to-60 ratings to be credible," Knott says. "That way, the magazines can run their own tests and brag that they dusted the factory guys." Growing a brand requires credibility, and Knott envisions SRT growing — but not in employees, not in its model line, and not hugely in annual volume. Knott sees annual sales growing maybe 10 to 15 percent in the next few years and the model line holding steady at 10 to 12. In addition to the three recently introduced, the SRT gallery also includes two versions of the Dodge Ram SRT-10, the Chrysler Crossfire SRT-6 convertible and coupe, the Dodge Viper coupe and roadster, the just-ended Neon SRT-4, and the SRT-8 versions of the Dodge Magnum wagon and Chrysler 300C sedan. More important to Knott is building the brand equity of SRT — making it a household name. "It takes years to build brand equity. AMG is 35 to 40 years old. In three years, we've built six or seven years of brand equity in SRT because we've moved so quickly. In 10 to 15 years, I'd hope we'd be in the 20-to-30-year range." Every vehicle will be considered for the SRT badge, but SRT versions of the Dodge Durango, the Jeep Commander and Chrysler's minivans are unlikely. Knott is mum on future SRT products at the low end of the market previously occupied by the Neon-based SRT-4 and now out of production. The under-$20,000 SRT-4 was successful beyond SRT's dreams. Chrysler had predicted it would sell 5,000 over its short lifetime; it sold more than 25,000. Word is the SRT-4 will be replaced by an SRT-4 version of the upcoming Caliber, the Neon's hatchback replacement. Two upcoming small Jeeps — the Patriot and Compass — are likely prospects for SRT in the youth tuner market as well. "We won't walk away from that [import tuner] market, but I'm not going to tell you what our future plans are either," said Knott. "We will always look for the best opportunities."