GENEVA -- What do you get if you breed a Scion xB with a BMW Mini?
You get the Dodge Hornet, an offbeat concept that could bring the European rally car aesthetic to the American heartland.
If the Chrysler group approves it, run-of-the-mill SUVs will start looking stodgy. If so, the guy to blame is Mark Moushegian, the 41-year-old designer who penned the Hornet's exterior.
In recent years, I've argued that America is ready for European-style space wagons, hatchbacks and rally cars. Moushegian has convinced me that the time has finally come.
A year ago, Chrysler asked its design studios to submit proposals for a small car intended for the European market. Moushegian, a design manager at the Chrysler group's Pacifica studio near San Diego, decided to merge two design trends.
The BMW Mini proved that Americans appreciate a small rally car. And the Scion xB demonstrated the utility of a tall, boxy wagon. "The Mini and the Scion are bookend statements," Moushegian said in an interview at the Geneva show last week. "That, to me, is a good formula."
To appeal to young motorists, Moushegian and his team designed an interior with Stow 'n Go-style fold-down seats. The seat backs feature a rubbery surface reminiscent of the Honda Element.
Moushegian compares the Hornet with a Leatherman knife - a useful tool, but not as pretty as a Swiss Army knife. "It's a little more rough, like a work boot," he explains. "You can abuse it and not worry about getting it dirty. You can put this through its paces, like a rally car."
Moushegian learned his craft at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif. After more schooling in Switzerland, he went to work at Ford. Among Moushegian's assignments was the 2002 Ford Windstar, a generic minivan that offered no hint of his more recent work.
Moushegian joined the Chrysler group five years ago. His first major project was the Jeep Gladiator, a cheerfully retro pickup concept that gained attention at the 2005 Detroit auto show.
Eighteen months ago, Moushegian moved to the Pacifica studio. He wasted little time submerging himself in California culture.
He likes to surf and ride his mountain bike. Moushegian also owns a Honda CBR 600 motorcycle, which he likes to ride into the canyons on weekends. And he monitors California's tuner scene to see how kids are tricking out their Japanese pocket rockets.
But his first love is European rally cars, and it comes as no surprise that he once owned an Audi quattro. Now he has an opportunity to graft his enthusiasm onto Dodge, a traditional heartland brand that is not exactly an obvious candidate for a Euro makeover.
Don't bet against him.
You may e-mail David Sedgwick at [email protected]