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Dodge Viper poised to strike

Chrysler cream: The Viper is expected to cost between $160,000 and $180,000.

The Dodge Viper will lead the charge in Chrysler's conversion plans for Down Under

24 Sep 2001

THE red-hot Dodge Viper coupe will now spearhead Chrysler's ambitious right-hand drive conversion plans for the Australian market.

Chrysler-Jeep Australia managing director Judith Wheeler confirmed to automotive e-news that the Viper would be part of the first wave of models to be converted, along with the Sebring convertible. Both are due to be launched in the fourth quarter of 2002.

"We've done all the research, it has been approved up to this point. We're down to three conversion companies and now we just have to make a pilot decision," Ms Wheeler said.

With the business case approved, that decision will come in the next few weeks when final meetings on the project take place.

The Viper is expected to cost between $160,000 and $180,000, with up to 100 examples available.

Only a couple of the major metropolitan dealers will be able to handle the Viper, as the workshop tools alone are valued at $20,000 per set. CJA will pay for the tools and provide them to the selected dealers.

Although the Viper will be the most expensive Chrysler-Jeep product by far, its hefty price tag looks decidedly cheap in comparison to its European sports coupe competitors.

The Aston Martin DB7 Vantage, Ferrari 550 Maranello, Jaguar XKR and Mercedes-Benz CL55 AMG are all $200,000-plus, with the emphasis on "plus" in a few of those cases.

The right-hand drive conversion project is part of a plan by CJA to keep fresh product rolling through Chrysler-Jeep showrooms until the next wave of all-new models starts in 2004.

"I wanted to make a commitment to the dealers here that we are going to assist them with a bit more product between now and 2004," Ms Wheeler said.

"So that's why it's crucial to be fairly fast with the project because if we get too far out it's not worth it, with what we have coming in 2004." A bonus for the company is expressions of interest in the conversion models from Thailand, Japan, South Africa and the UK.

If the project is successful, other models are likely to join the expanding model range, including the Dakota and Durango.

The Dakota is a pick-up truck that comes in regular, club and quad cab configurations between 5.0 and 5.5 metres long - although in the US it is called a compact pick-up.

The Durango is Dodge's competitor in the extra-large four-wheel drive segment - another size larger than the Grand Cherokee - and is powered by a 4.7-litre or 5.9-litre V8 engine.

"Dakota and Durango are built on the same frame, so if we did those it would be easy because the conversions would be almost the same," Ms Wheeler said.

"They've told me in Detroit they will support us doing Durango and Dakota. So they would like to see us continue to pursue that as well."

Performance boost for the Neon range

THE slow-selling Neon range will be given a performance boost with the arrival of the Neon R/T set down for December.

The Neon's 98kW, 2.0-litre engine has been warmed to deliver 112kW in the R/T while other features include 16-inch alloy wheels, sports suspension and suitably aggressive styling changes to the exterior and interior.

The even hotter Neon SR/T - powered by a supercharged 2.4-litre, four-cylinder engine - has not yet been confirmed for Australia, although a meeting scheduled for the end of this month should deliver the final word.

The PT Cruiser range is also set to grow, with a number of new variations planned for introduction over the next few years - likely to be at six-monthly intervals.

A GT Cruiser, Cruiser convertible, Cruiser panel van, long-wheelbase Cruiser mini people-mover and "soft-roader" PT Cruiser four-wheel drive are all possible variations on the original theme. The GT Cruiser is the best fit for Australia initially as CJA is keen to have a model with a bigger, more powerful engine.

"We have been researching using the engine from the Neon SR/T in the PT Cruiser, but they (DaimlerChrysler in the US) haven't given us a final answer," Chrysler-Jeep Australia managing director Judith Wheeler said.

"We just want another engine opportunity for PT Cruiser." A turbo-diesel PT Cruiser is still under consideration but is not as suited to CJAs requirements for this market.

Two new versions of the Grand Cherokee will also arrive in the next 12 months a high-end, luxury model is due to be launched in January, followed by a diesel version later in the year.

There will be a special edition of the Wrangler to celebrate Jeep's 60th anniversary, which should be arriving with the October shipment of regular models, while a similar version of the Grand Cherokee is also planned.

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