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Dart may douse Dodge model drought

Dart board: With Dodge down to just one right-hand-drive model in production, the company has now committed to reconsider engineering the new Dart in RHD.

RHD markets lobby to re-open business case for Alfa Giulietta-based Dodge Dart

5 Mar 2012

DODGE could bring the Alfa Romeo Giulietta-based Dart sedan to Australia after all with the news that right-hand-drive markets have secured a commitment from the factory to re-open the business case for RHD production.

With only the Journey people-mover now in production as a RHD model and stocks of the Caliber hatch and Nitro compact SUV due to sell out by mid-year, the brand desperately needs some new blood in Australia.

The Holden Cruze-sized front-drive Dart was well received when it debuted at the Detroit show in January, promising a mix of European drivetrain and chassis finesse, American styling and high technology.

Chrysler Australia managing director Clyde Campbell told GoAuto last week that a decision had been made not to produce the Dart in right-hand drive before he took control of the company in September 2010.

“Talking with my counterpart in South Africa, the guys from the UK and Japan, we have at least got a commitment that we can re-open the (Dart) business case if we can collectively combine for enough volume,” he said.

If negotiations to bring the Dart to Australia fail, the future looks bleak for the brand here.

41 center imageLeft: Chrysler Australia managing director Clyde Campbell. Below: Dart, Journey and Caliber.

“There are questions there that are going to take a little time to resolve,” said Mr Campbell. “Once we have got resolution on those open questions (about the Dart) it will probably frame the way we can go forward with Dodge.” Mr Campbell said the company has to “rationalise what we do with the whole Dodge brand” but noted that the Journey (1016 sold last year) is “still strong” and extra stock of the Caliber and Nitro was ordered before production ended to keep dealers trading.

“To be honest, we haven’t finalised a position on (whether to keep Dodge).

“It is hard to walk away from a brand that is doing between 1500 and 2000 units per year.” Mr Campbell pointed out that the volumes achieved by Dodge – it sold 2703 vehicles last year, up 41 per cent – take a long time to achieve and provide a “beautiful launching pad” from which to build in the event that new product comes along.

“We want to make sure that we are very clear as to why we would walk away if that was what we were going to do.” If Chrysler decides to take over Australian distribution of Fiat (see separate story), which produces a rebadged version of the Dodge Journey called the Freemont, it has a potential get-out clause from the Dodge brand.

Sister brand Chrysler is making do with just one model here, the Voyager people-mover that averaged just 18 sales per month last year, but the promise of the second-generation 300C sedan arriving mid-year has kept that brand going.

Mr Campbell said the company has “just started” looking at the possibility of importing Lancia-badged products available in the UK, including the Fiat 500-based Ypsilon light car and the Golf-rivalling Delta hatchback.

The Dodge Dart will go on sale in the US later this year and be manufactured at Chrysler’s Belvedere plant in Illinois.

Riding on a longer and wider version of the Giulietta platform, itself a version of Fiat’s global Compact underpinnings, the Dart provides more interior space while retaining the Italian car’s front MacPherson strut and multi-link independent rear suspension.

Among the innovations are different interior lighting packages and a large touchscreen interface that allows the driver to reconfigure the instrument gauges.

A long list of standard features include 10 airbags and climate-control air-conditioning, as well as big-car options like satellite-navigation, a rear-view camera, blind-spot monitoring devices and a heated steering wheel.

Three four-cylinder petrol engines will be offered in the US initially, comprising the naturally aspirated ‘Tigershark’ in 2.0-litre 120kW/200Nm and 2.4-litre 137kW/232Nm guises, and a 1.4-litre Turbo MultiAir economy unit producing 120kW/250Nm.

Six-speed manual and automatic transmissions, including Fiat’s TCT dual-clutch unit, will be available and the addition of ZF’s groundbreaking nine-speed auto is also in the pipeline.

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