Yesterday, the world saw for the first time the totally insane 2018 Dodge Durango SRT, a 475-horsepower behemoth that does wicked all-wheel drive burnouts. One claim I saw in the press release, though, needs to be cleared up, because it’s a classic example of intricate word-choice used by marketers.
Let’s get straight to the claim in question:
Dodge claims that the Durango is “America’s Most Powerful 3-Row SUV,” and that’s definitely questionable, depending on what the brand means by “America’s,” and also depending on what they mean by “most powerful.” Oh, and it also depends on what they mean by “3-Row.” Heck, and maybe even “SUV.” These marketing people have me questioning every damn word in my vocabulary.
But that’s their job; automakers are all about adding just enough words to an ad, manipulating those words and throwing in caveats, until the phrase is “technically” true. Then the car can be touted as the best in the very narrow competitive set their team just totally pulled out of their butts. In some ways, it’s genius.
Let’s break down this claim by looking at the wording.
OK, so let’s look at the first word, “America’s.” We can interpret this in a number of ways: assembled in the U.S., sold in the U.S., designed and engineered in the U.S., made of mostly-American components, and I’m sure there are plenty others. Also, Fiat Chrysler isn’t entirely an American company, but Dodge is an American brand. So we’ll give it that.
If we’re talking about assembly, there’s the more powerful 532-horsepower Tesla Model X P100D, which is built in Fremont, California, and there’s also the 577 horsepower Mercedes-AMG GLS63, which is assembled in Vance, Alabama. If we’re talking about designed and engineered by an American company, the Tesla falls into that camp as well. And even though the Mercedes GLS is designed in Germany, remember that the Durango’s platform is loosely derived from the German Mercedes M-Class (now called the GLE), so it’s not entirely engineered in the U.S. (since we’re being nitpicky).
As for components, the Kogod Made in America Auto Index says the regular Durango contains 63 percent Total Domestic Content, but the Grand Cherokee SRT—with which the Durango shares a lot in common—gets a score of about 75 percent. Both of those are higher than the GLS’s 50 percent Total Domestic Content.
As for the Model X, there’s no score yet, but the Model S, with which the X shares quite a bit of design, scores 75 percent.
The point here is that there are three-row cars designed in America, manufactured in America, and comprised of mostly American parts that are more powerful than the Durango.
I don’t think Dodge is stretching the definition of “Most powerful” to make their claim, but I will say that the disclaimer in the screengrab above is a bit suspicious.
If we ask ourselves what it means for a car to be the “most powerful?,” the answer is simple, because the term “power” has a very precise meaning: which car’s engine is able to produce the most energy per unit time, measured in Horsepower, Kilowatts, British Thermal Unit Per Hour, or whatever suits your fancy.
But if you look at the little disclaimer at the bottom of the screenshot above, you’ll see “based on HP and Torque,” which, to me, doesn’t make a lot of sense.
It’s a bit like saying “based on a PB&J, and also Jelly.” What I mean is, torque is already embedded in “power,” since the two are related through RPM. So if this disclaimer had said “based on torque and RPM” or even “based on torque and time,” then it’d make more sense. But how “most powerful” can be based on horsepower and something else is a bit odd to me.
That probably isn’t relevant to the point, but it’s definitely confusing. Either way, the Mercedes GLS AMG puts out 577 horsepower and 561 lb-ft of torque, and the Tesla Model X P100D makes 532 horsepower and 713 lb-ft of torque, so they win handily, here.
There’s also the “excludes low volume production vehicles,” which I guess could include the GLS and Model X? But who’s to say the Durango SRT will sell in high volumes, and also: what constitutes “low volume?”
Again, the disclaimers are confusing.
I’m going to guess and say it’s these two words “Third-Row” are the big ones that help make Dodge’s phrase “technically true.” The Mercedes AMG GLS63 comes with three rows standard, yes. But the Tesla Model X’s added row is optional. This bit about standard versus optional is crucial.
As much as we think the Tesla Model X is a minivan, we also think the Durango is one as well, so I’m not sure Dodge thinks they’re in a different class than the Tesla or the Mercedes. I really doubt this is what Dodge is using to make their claim “technically true.” But honestly, who knows. Maybe they consider the Model X a big hatchback, and their Durango a legitimate SUV?
So, for Dodge’s clam to be true, we’ve got to interpret these words a certain way. If we ask ourselves: “Is the Durango SRT the most powerful three-row SUV made in America?” the answer is no, the Mercedes AMG GLS63 has more grunt.
If we ask ourselves “Is the Durango SRT the most powerful three-row SUV made by an American car company?” the answer is also no, that’s the Tesla Model X P100D.
If we ask ourselves “Is the Durango SRT the most powerful three-row SUV made of mostly American parts,” the answer is still no.
But if we ask “Is the Durango SRT the most powerful three-row SUV made by an American car company, and whose third row is standard equipment?” finally we conclude: yes.
And after calling up a Dodge representative, this “framing” is indeed what gives them those bragging rights. It’s a tricky bit of marketing, but that’s what they do.
Plus, they had to put something between all those smoky all-wheel drive burnout scenes. A 30-second commercial entirely comprised of an ozone-depleting burnout tends to be frowned upon, I guess.