DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The squeal of tires sliding across an asphalt-covered parking lot attracts visitors to Dodge City. Spectators stand next to an improvised racetrack across the street from Daytona International Speedway.
Two Chargers and a Viper convertible whip around the track. Passengers hang on for what Dodge executives call a "thrill ride."
As the dust settles, spectators stroll over to a large tent that features legendary Chargers from the 1960s and '70s. Dodge's newest attraction, the 2006 Charger sedan, is in the center.
Dodge is setting up its Dodge City display at five NASCAR Nextel Cup races this year, as well as other motorsports events. The Daytona Beach exhibit, at the Daytona 500 race on Feb. 20, covered two acres. It included 50 Dodge vehicles, seven of them Chargers.
Dodge will coordinate the next display with the Dodge Charger 500, a Nextel Cup race on Saturday, May 7, in Darlington, N.C.
Darryl Jackson, Dodge's vice president of marketing, calls the 2006 Charger critical to the brand's fortunes. And the Charger's racing heritage is a big part of that.
"This vehicle is huge for the brand," Jackson says. "It is our opportunity to get us back into the car market. Part of it was the Magnum. The second phase is the Charger."
The Charger replaces the front-wheel-drive Intrepid, a sedan that sold 76,473 units in 2003, its last full year.
The Charger shares a vehicle platform with the Chrysler 300 sedan. The 300's styling has been favorably received, as its strong sales suggest. But some critics call the Charger's styling polarizing.
Dodge executives won't project Charger sales.
Industry sources say Dodge wants to top 100,000 sales a year. The vehicle reaches dealerships this summer.