NEW YORK -- The Chrysler group thinks it has created a viable business case for turning the Dodge Challenger concept into reality. The plan relies on niche volume, V-8 power and pricing above the Ford Mustang.
A key element is the belief that escalating gasoline prices won't sway enthusiasts from lusting after the Hemi-powered, rear-drive performance coupe.
Gasoline prices are "a factor in a lot of our discussions," said Joe Eberhardt, the Chrysler group's executive vice president of global sales and marketing.
"I wouldn't say (that) with Challenger because that is going to be a car probably for the enthusiast - probably a second or third car, probably not competing with everyday transportation."
That strategy would imply total or near total reliance on V-8 engines. That would be a striking contrast to Ford's Mustang, a mass-market vehicle offered with a range of models and powertrains - vehicles intended for everyday transportation. Last year Ford sold 160,975 Mustangs, of which only 30 percent had V-8s.
A decision on whether to build the Challenger is expected this year.
Chrysler does not have capacity to build the Challenger in its Brampton, Ontario, plant alongside the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger and Magnum. The Challenger would share a platform with those models.
That means a separate production site would be needed. But, since the Challenger would not be a mass-volume product, a dedicated plant would not be required.
"Emotionally, we are all there; we all say (let's build it) tomorrow," Eberhardt said. "But sometimes you've got to sit back and put a lid on your emotions and say, 'OK, is there a sustainable business case?' Or is it going to be another one year hot and then demand trails off fairly quickly?
"I think we are fairly comfortable now that we have found a formula where we think we can sustain it" profitably for several years, said Eberhardt, who was interviewed at the New York auto show this month.
The Challenger concept, which was unveiled at the Detroit auto show in January, draws on styling cues first seen on the 1970 Challenger. In those days the Challenger went head to head with the Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro in price, size and horsepower.
The Challenger concept packs a 425-hp, 6.1-liter Hemi V-8. It's also 4.7 inches wider and 10.2 inches longer than the 2006 Mustang.
Said Eberhardt, the Challenger "is a larger car, and I think it will be (priced) a little above" the Mustang.
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