The company described its work since October as a feasibility study. The M80 was not a funded vehicle in the long-range product plan, says Ken Levy, company spokesman.
Says Zetsche: "There is no deterioration of our product plan whatsoever."
The M80 was intended to be a small, inexpensive pickup at a time when competitive offerings are gaining in size and price.
The Chrysler group's upcoming entries aimed at young buyers include the Jeep Scrambler, a Jeep Wrangler derivative that goes on sale in July 2004. Chrysler-Jeep dealers also expect to sell the Jeep Compass, a small, entry-level SUV shown at the 2001 Detroit auto show, although timing is unknown.
In addition, Dodge dealers expect a Neon replacement in calendar 2005. Dodge dealers also have been pushing for a vehicle priced and positioned below the Neon.
"They will look at their product plan and fine-tune it to compensate for the cancellation of the M80," says Jeff Schuster,director of North American forecasting for J.D. Power and Associates. The M80 program would have yielded an estimated 200,000 units annually, he says.
Now the Scrambler volume may be boosted beyond the anticipated annual build of 15,000 to 20,000 units, Schuster says. Or the Compass, which Schuster pegs at 50,000 units annually, could be considered for Dodge, he says.
Zetsche says killing the M80 will not affect the company's deliberations on whether to sell the Dodge brand in Europe. That decision is due by year end.