SAN FRANCISCO -- Dodge is 14 months away from having a 40-mpg small car based on a Fiat platform.
The tooling for that car was recently handed off to Chrysler Group’s engineering department, Dodge CEO Ralph Gilles told journalists here Sunday.
That small car is key to Chrysler’s recovery strategy and to meeting stricter U.S. fuel- economy standards. While it and other new Fiat-based products are developed, the Chrysler and Dodge brands are introducing a series of new and revamped products aimed at sustaining sales momentum until the Fiat-based platforms and technologies can be integrated into the lineup.
The two brands are becoming more distinct under a Chrysler Group structure that runs the brands as separate businesses. Chrysler is moving toward luxury, while Dodge is evolving into a youthful, performance brand now that it has separated from the Ram truck brand.
The Dodge brand gets two reengineered products: the Charger sedan and the Durango SUV. Three other vehicles are getting major mid-cycle renovations designed to address shortcomings identified by consumers and journalists -- the Journey crossover, Avenger sedan and Grand Caravan minivan.
Passion for driving
Dodge is reshaping its image as an affordable American brand for people who are passionate about driving. With the new rear-drive Charger sedan, Dodge has taken aim at European sports sedans that cost twice as much. Charger prices start at $25,995, including destination.
Dodge targeted the BMW 5-series for handling, steering response and ride.
“I’m a big fan of high-end European cars,” Gilles said. “It doesn’t cost anything to tweak the handling.”
The new Durango also is taking aim at European crossovers.
Fred DePerez, head of marketing for the Durango, Grand Caravan and Journey, said the Durango will have “full-size SUV capability” with “the refinement of a premium crossover.”
Butts in seats
The Durango is built on the same platform as the Jeep Grand Cherokee, but has seven seats instead of five. It will come in four models starting at $30,045.
The Durango and Charger will draw customers into dealerships, but Dodge officials know their real challenge will be to convince customers that the Grand Caravan, Journey and Avenger sedan have been so thoroughly revamped they are almost like new cars.
Marc Seguin, head of marketing for Charger and Challenger, said Dodge needs to get customers to see the new products first hand to convince them how radically they have changed.
“We need to get butts into seats,” he said. “That will be the tough part.”