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Dodge draws near

Low-calibre: Dodge's Chicago show concept will become the brand's entry-level model here.

All-American budget brand Dodge readies itself for 2007 Australian market assault

6 Apr 2005

DAIMLERCHRYSLER brand Dodge will unveil its new range of passenger vehicles at the Australian International Motor Show in October 2006, ahead of an all-out assault on the market in the first half of 2007.

It is believed the first Dodges here will include a circa-$30,000 five-seat, front-wheel drive hatchback based on the Caliber concept shown at the recent Chicago motor show.

The production version of the Caliber will replace the six-year-old PL2000 Neon in Chrysler’s new vehicle line-up when it debuts later this year in the United States.

A variation of the Nitro X 4WD concept, a second Chicago debutante designed to highlight Dodge’s international intentions, should follow right behind.

This is believed to be a 4WD in the mould of the Ford Territory, although the Nitro concept is based on the more off-road-focused Jeep Cherokee.

It is powered by Chrysler’s existing 157kW/319Nm 3.7-litre SOHC V6 and paired to a four-speed automatic gearbox.

If the production version, also due for an American launch inside 12 months, remains faithful to the Nitro concept then it will be Dodge’s first medium-sized 4WD.

However, Chrysler Jeep Australia managing director Gerry Jenkins said both concept cars were mere pointers.

"They are an excellent indication of the design and the vision of the brand – where we want to go and the type of lifestyle vehicles we want to offer," he told GoAuto.

"Those two vehicles are purely concept vehicles and are just built for test purposes to get a reaction from the market.

"The only thing you can draw for the moment is the actual flavour for the brand – the actual design cues and nothing much more than that." Mr Jenkins added that these vehicles emphasized a desired strong youth element for the Dodge brand.

"We want to position Dodge as another good alternative for Australians, with styling that’s a big point of difference," he said.

"The Caliber is a good example of where we’re going in a design perspective – it will be very bold and arguably masculine. That’s possibly the positioning of that product." Caliber contrasts vividly with Chrysler Australia’s last foray into the small-car segment, the less-than-illustrious Neon sold from 1996 to 2002.

Only 5500 were sold in Australia, hampered by high pricing, fierce competition and a single four-door sedan body choice with styling that, though distinctive, probably bordered too closely on being ‘cute’ for a wide demographic appeal.

On the subject of volume, the numbers slated for Dodge in Australia are still being worked out.

"We haven’t put the number down on paper yet – we’re still negotiating that with Detroit," Mr Jenkins said.

"But we’re obviously interested in building incremental growth and building a solid base and making sure that our dealers have sufficient volume and the throughput to make the franchise an attractive one." Last year, Mr Jenkins told GoAuto he wanted to double the number of right-hand drive products now available by the end of 2007.

"It will be product that’s much more refined, much better quality, much more durable, and we’re going to try to keep in a very price-competitive position," he said.

"The range is expected to compete with everything from Mazda and Honda up to, well, Chrysler really." That puts the opening price point somewhere from the $20,000s right up to around $65,000, the projected ask for the upcoming Chrysler 300C.

Of the other prospective vehicles, Mr Jenkins said the Dodge Charger was not expected to be released here.

"We’re very excited that the Charger is back," he said. "It evokes an enormous amount of memories for many Australians ... (but) unfortunately the car won’t be coming ... unless demand in other right-hand drive countries increases significantly.

"Whilst we would love to get the Charger and add it to our growing stable of products, the reality is it will probably never come here." On the question of Dodge commercial vehicles, Mr Jenkins would not specifically rule anything out.

"I don’t think we can expect to see any of the current US vehicles on the Dodge side to work their way to Australia range of vehicles – ie: the Dakota or Ram – those are not in the plan," he said.

"But what will be coming in ’07 are the newer products, the newer Dodges that are slated."

41 center image He would not divulge details, nor the investment outlaid to bring Dodge here, however he said none of the vehicles coming to Australia would overlap with what Chrysler or Jeep offers in Australia.

On the retail front, Chrysler Jeep Australia will develop current sites that are already Chrysler and Jeep franchises.

It is currently sorting out the network to ascertain which are, or will be, best equipped to handle Dodge.

Besides sales, the servicing and spare parts capabilities of prospective outlets are also being reviewed.

At over 90 years of age, Dodge is the second oldest brand in the DaimlerChrysler stable after Mercedes-Benz.

Last year, it sold in excess of 1.4 million vehicles worldwide. Currently, it is running fifth (with a 6.9 per cent market share) in the United States, making Dodge the fifth largest automotive nameplate there and the eighth biggest globally.

Phoenix rising

DESPITE the youthful, designer image Chrysler is chasing for Dodge, the marque has quite a history with old-timers here.

The first to arrive in Australia was the 1935 four-cylinder DM series.

It was shortly joined by six-cylinder derivatives that lasted throughout the 1940s, while small numbers of the Kingsway – along with similar vehicles from the now-dead Chrysler marques De Soto and Plymouth – were also sold up until the late 1950s.

But Holden’s early domination in Australia – by 1958 it commanded 50 per cent of the market – prompted Chrysler to build a challenger based on the compact US Plymouth Valiant.

So Dodge crept upmarket in the 1960s with the Phoenix four-door range, available until 1972 in 5.2-litre V8 sedan and 6.3-litre V8 Hardtop guises.

This Ford Fairlane-dwarfing luxury car contender was the final Dodge officially sold in Australia. It was replaced by the embarrassingly unsuccessful VH Valiant-based Chrysler-by-Chrysler.

And as its name suggests, the Phoenix was rebuilt from the ground-up in Adelaide from Canadian-sourced ‘completely knocked down’ parts.

A Dodge-badged Chrysler VE Valiant ute was also marketed in Australia from 1967 to 1970.

These old models, along with a large number of private imports from over the years, are the basis of a vibrant Dodge club scene today.

And such loyal brand enthusiasm hasn’t gone unnoticed by Chrysler Jeep Australia.

"We’re going to continue to support them and showcase their vehicles at meets," said Chrysler Jeep Australia boss Gerry Jenkins.

"It seems to be a good way to build some relationships with Chrysler and Jeep and Dodge enthusiasts so that’s part of our core strategy to continue to do so."

Chrysler safe: Jenkins

THE arrival of Dodge will supplement, rather than replace, the Chrysler-badged range of vehicles in Australia, according to Chrysler Jeep Australia boss Gerry Jenkins.

Notwithstanding the next-generation Neon becoming a Dodge vehicle, Mr Jenkins said he did not see Dodge as a brand that would cannibalise – or compromise – Chrysler.

"The whole point of introducing Dodge in Australia is to build incremental growth," he told GoAuto. "So we’re not looking at taking away from Chrysler at all but to build upon our existing volume base." Dodge is expected to handle passenger car-based small 4WD vehicles and possibly medium and large recreational-style trucks like the Ram, while Chrysler will stick with its niche PT Cruiser, sports car (Crossfire coupe and convertible) and upmarket (300C) offerings.

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