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DC looks at Dodge for European C/D-sector

A verdict on whether or not to import the overtly American Dodge-branded vehicles into the UK as part of Chrysler Corporation's European expansion plan is central to a product onslaught involving 17 new group models and doubling the number of diesel variants by 2005.

Chrysler management appears receptive to engineering growing numbers of new models for right-hand-drive but Simon Elliott, Chrysler-Jeep's director in the UK, requires a “critical mass” of RHD Dodges to justify sales, marketing and retail infrastructure costs.

Two concept cars, the Dodge Avenger and Magnum, provided strong hints for upcoming Dodge and/or Chrysler models at the Detroit motor show.

Most significant was the five-door, high-roof, V8-engined 4x4 Avenger, whose overall format, downscaled, could replace Chrysler's ageing Neon or a larger D-sector newcomer.

Elliott confirms that the Avenger had: “strong clues for what we need in the future in C or D sectors.”

He predicts Neon's successor, due next year, could generate 6000 sales, four times the current saloon's annual volume.

“Dodge could give us a third string to our bow, providing more identity and spirit, while creating more profit from a wider, younger audience,” he says. The Magnum, a rear-wheel-drive 5.7-litre V8 sports tourer, could be a Dodge or it may replace the Vauxhall Omega-sized Chrysler 300M.

The Magnum's 345bhp engine will be offered with new versions of the Dodge Ram Heavy Duty Pick-Up later this year. The HEMI Magnum unit was developed with Ricardo engineers in a computer-aided environment. It has 100bhp more than its predecessor, better fuel economy and significantly lower emissions.

Jim Schroer, Chrysler's global sales and marketing vice president, says Dodge should offer “world cool, grab it by the horns, crazy American appeal” for cars bearing the ram's head badge. But he emphasises: “the launch cannot justify huge amounts of marketing money for just a few cars.”

A decision on European Dodge imports is expected by the end of March this year.

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