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CAR confidential: Distinctive Dodge DNA

I admit to being sceptical when I first heard plans afoot to launch the Dodge brand in the UK.

Chrysler and Jeep were hardly setting the sales charts alight with their US-spec supersized saloons and 4x4s, so why should the Chrysler Group bother with another brand that most British motorists here have never even heard of?

Well, it seems that I may have to eat my words. The Chrysler Group posted a 38% UK sales increase last year, bursting through the 20,000 barrier for the first time. The growth was fuelled mainly by strong sales of the Voyager, Cherokee and 300C ranges – but Dodge sold 2,200 Calibers, too. And it’s Dodge where much of the focus lies in 2007.

The Chrysler group launched six new models last year, and this year we’ll see seven new arrivals – many of them in new segments for further incremental growth. Two will be Dodges: the Nitro mid-sized SUV coming in July, and the Avenger saloon to battle the new Mondeo in September.

On the evidence of the Caliber, don’t expect either to drive as well as the European competition – but you can’t argue with Dodge’s clever brand positioning. Who doesn’t want distinctive looks, tempting prices and cars marketed with cheeky attitude? These make up Dodge’s DNA.

This is precisely what the top brass are planning with future products, like the new Hornet supermini currently awaiting the green light. “We don’t want to compromise our cars’ character and attitude – it’s what makes a Dodge a Dodge,” global sales and marketing boss Thomas Hausch told us recently. “Think of the Hornet as an alternative to the Mini.”

But let’s keep things in perspective. Cars such as the Hornet, Caliber and Avenger aren’t going to trouble the volume players, but Dodge should take advantage of the market’s growing fragmentation. People want more distinctive products – and this is a brand set on delivering them.

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