FCA's Ralph Gilles on how a gamer car helps market SRT sub-brand to all ages

Q&A

The SRT Tomahawk will come in three trims when it’s unleashed in the “Gran Turismo 6” racing game for Sony’s PlayStation 3 game console this summer.

DETROIT — When video gam-ers are zooming along in the SRT Tomahawk Vision Gran Turismo virtual concept car this summer, they’ll get a peek at the imaginations lurking within Fiat Chrysler’s designers.

The speedy, single-seat hybrid also could entice young gamers to explore Dodge’s SRT performance sub-brand. The Tomahawk will come in three trims when it’s unleashed in the “Gran Turismo 6” racing game for Sony’s PlayStation 3 game console this summer.

Ralph Gilles, 45, head of design for FCA, spoke with Staff Reporter Vince Bond Jr. at FCA US headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., about the marketing appeal of “Gran Turismo.”

Q: Do you think video games are a strong marketing tool?

A: I know they’re a connective fiber for sure. Being a gamer myself, talking to gamers, a good proportion of the SRT engineers and even my own designers are gamers. Clearly, you are touching a great cross section of the U.S., and the world, really. I don’t know if those same kids are going to run and buy one of our products tomorrow morning, but they know who we are. The conversation, you can watch in real time. I’ll go home and read the social media chatter, and that will give us good insight into how our brands are perceived. It’s important that they know that we’re passionate about vehicles, passionate about design, passionate about engineering and also, at the same time, thinking about the future. “Futuring,” so to speak. A little bit like the sci-fi industry, the auto industry has that in it as well.

Gilles: The SRT Tomahawk project was liberating for designers

Photo credit: VINCE BOND JR.

FCA is planting the seed for some of these young kids. 

This car is really a fantasy car, but it kind of gets the conversation open because they may be used to downloading the same cars or playing with the same cars, and all of sudden now, they’re playing with something called an SRT, and they’re like, “Whoa, what is that?” They may go research a little more about what is SRT. 

The virtual “Gran Turismo” driver can get into the SRT Tomahawk Vision Gran Turismo this summer.

Do you think there is a target audience? 

I started playing video games as soon as technology got to the point where it was good and fast. I was about in my mid-20s. I know that there are kids as young as 10 to 12 years old playing. And I still play; I’m 45 years old. That tells you that the bandwidth is quite wide. I know a lot of racers, and they use it as training. They’re up to 60 years old, 70 years old. 

You mentioned earlier that this is a great way to keep your design team engaged and thinking forward. 

It was that, and it was also a great exercise because a lot of my designers have been out of school for a decade in some cases, so it made it feel a bit like a student project. They’re sometimes jealous of our interns — or even when they teach at design schools — they’re jealous of that freedom. It was kind of cool to see my staff have a college-like experience where they could do whatever they want and design whatever they really feel. It was liberating for them.

In general, the video game environment seems like a natural place for auto designers anyway. 

It fits. With the resolution in the modern-day “Gran Turismo” game, the car shows so well. The highlights are exactly like they would be in real life, so you can really show off a little design prowess. 

Is this a way to build goodwill? 

I think there is a bit of a calling card to other designers. It’s a good recruiting tool. There are very few degrees of separation between designers and gamers. It’s an excellent way for us to show what we’re made of.

You can reach Vince Bond Jr. at vbond@crain.com. — Follow Vince on Twitter


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