LAS VEGAS - Dodge wants young, male drivers to see its 2000 Dodge Neon in a different light - slammed, scooped and supercharged.
To help stimulate their imaginations, Dodge created the Neon SRT concept, the most powerful Neon to date, with a supercharged, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that generates 208 hp.
Dodge wants to be a player in the burgeoning import performance market, a niche dominated by the Honda Civic, Acura Integra and Mitsubishi Eclipse.
This performance craze emerged about five years ago in Southern California, migrated across the South and now is blossoming on the East Coast. It is even making inroads in the Midwest.
These cars are often slammed, or lowered, and equipped with aftermarket turbochargers and other performance boosters, spoilers, air scoops, custom wheels and exhaust systems, and powerful sound systems.
The import performance trend is 'still growing, in the heartland and on the East Coast too,' said Thomas Myroniak Jr., a marketing consultant representing HKS USA Inc., a manufacturer of aftermarket performance parts. 'The Civics are becoming the '57 Chevys of the '90s.'
Dodge thinks the new Neon is a natural platform for such modification. The Neon SRT concept is intended to give 18- to 25-year-old male drivers some ideas of what they could do with accessories if they owned a Neon.
'It's one of the fastest growing aftermarkets out there,' said Marques McCammon, the Neon SRT program manager. 'It's like the '57 Chevys and the SuperBirds of a younger era.'
The SRT, unveiled here Nov. 1 during the Specialty Equipment Market Association trade show, has an aggressive-styled front fascia, projector-beam fog lamps, hood air scoop and imposing rear spoiler.
Its 2.0-liter, single-overhead-camshaft, four-cylinder engine generates 208 hp and 180 pounds-feet of torque at 4,200 rpm. By contrast, the production Neon has a 132-hp engine. Even the high-performance Dodge Neon R/T, due later in the 2000 model year, will have a 150-hp engine.
The SRT is 11/2 inches lower than the production Neon. It has four-wheel independent suspension with Eibach custom springs, Tokico performance-tuned struts, heavy-duty front and rear sway bars, and 17-inch racing tires and aluminum alloy wheels.
Ford Motor Co. also is responding to the trend. Ford displayed the Ford Focus R at the SEMA show, a concept with a turbocharged 2.0-liter, double-overhead-camshaft engine that generates 200 hp and 245 pounds-feet of torque.
A SEMA study indicated that in 1998, car owners spent $100 million on import-performance accessories. SEMA is taking another look at this market because of its rapid growth.
'It undoubtedly is much larger than a year ago,' said Jim Spoonhower, SEMA vice president of market research. The updated study already shows that drivers in this market niche are spending $3,500 to $8,900 per vehicle on performance improvements and other accessories, Spoonhower said. Suspensions, exhaust systems and sound systems are the most popular changes, he said.
In addition to the Civic, Integra and Eclipse, used Toyota Supras and Mazda RX7s have been part of the import performance market, said Charles Shepherd, head of the sales division at GReddy Performance Products Inc., of Irvine, Calif.
One of GReddy's most popular performance accessories is a $1,995 turbo kit designed for the Civic. Since it was introduced three years ago, GReddy has sold more than 500.
'On the East Coast, Miami alone is starting to come up close to Southern California saleswise,' Shepherd said. GReddy displayed a yellow 2000 Civic Si with prototype turbo and intercooler kits.