Chrysler senior vice president Dan Knott emerged as an unquestioned powerbroker in the industry, deftly navigating the flying circus that can be automaker-supplier relations. But enthusiasts of all stripes owe Knott a debt of gratitude, as he was a performance guy long before he became a well-known industry executive.
Knott, 51, died April 29 after a battle with cancer. He had taken a medical retirement April 13.
While overseeing worldwide purchasing and supplier quality is an immense task, Knott first emerged on our radar a decade ago as director of the Street and Racing Technology unit. In 2010, he was inducted into the Viper Club of America Hall of Fame for his contributions to the earlier generations of Chrysler's supercar.
He's also credited with work on the Jeep line and a range of SRT vehicles, including the Grand Cherokee, Chrysler Crossfire and 300C and Dodge Caliber.
Racing was in his blood, and Knott was fourth in his class at the 2005 Targa Newfoundland Tarmac Rally, where Chrysler design vice president and current SRT boss Ralph Gilles also raced.
Knott's words have appeared often in the pages of Autoweek over the years. In a memorable quote in the Feb. 13, 2006, issue, he said, "We have SRT stamped on the butts of every one of our engineers," in reference to the launch of the SRT version of the Caliber.
He also spoke of the burgeoning horsepower wars in 2005, as the Viper was updated and fortified to compete against the growing strength of the Corvette and Mustang. "With this car, we have given our customers back their bragging rights," he said.
Knott was named an Automotive News All-Star in 2011 and was widely respected throughout the car business. He joined Chrysler in 1988.
Gilles, a longtime colleague, tweeted on Sunday, "Sad day today as our friend and cofounder of SRT passed away peacefully, Dan Knott...he changed our world and lives, respect forever..."
In a statement, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said: "The Chrysler Group family is profoundly saddened today. Dan Knott was an inspirational leader who cared deeply about the company and, most of all, his people. His passion for products shone through, and I will always remember how his childlike smile lit up the room when we talked about vehicles like the Viper or our Jeep brand. He made a huge contribution to Chrysler by improving our relations with suppliers with an approach based on honesty, transparency and accountability. Dan will be missed on a professional basis and even more on a personal level. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family."
Knott, who lived in the Detroit suburb of Clarkston, is survived by his wife, Cindy, and children. Funeral services are this week in Clarkston.
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