Looks like American auto makers in general are trying to put more importance on their car line once again.Dodge wants to return to car business, looks to shed truckmaker image
MARY CONNELLY | Automotive News
Posted Date: 1/12/05
Dodge wants the 2006 Charger to make it a volume player in the sedan market. But that means Dodge must revive itself as a car brand, overcoming its primary image as a truckmaker.
"Our biggest challenge for 2005 is getting into the car business on a volume basis," says Jon Myers, chairman of the Dodge National Dealer Council and owner of Naples Dodge in Naples, Fla. "It is an arena we haven't been in for a long time."
Trucks accounted for 78 percent of Dodge sales in 2004.
What the Dodge brand stands for in trucks - performance and edgy styling - migrates easily to cars, says Judy Wheeler, director of Dodge car marketing.
"When we have stayed true to our brand, we have been very successful with cars," she says. "Look at Viper and the SRT-4 Neon."
The Chrysler group unveiled the Charger at the Detroit auto show. Dodge is targeting a high-volume, mainstream car segment, not the limited runs of the Viper or the SRT-4. Production begins in April. Wheeler won't disclose anticipated volume. But one analyst says the company likely wants to sell as many as 150,000 Chargers annually. In contrast, sales of the Intrepid, Dodge's mid-sized sedan, peaked at 147,576 units in 1995 but had slumped to 76,473 by 2003.
Says dealer Myers: "We haven't reached the volume potential in cars that we should or we can. We're in each segment. The Neon. The Stratus. But they don't have the volume numbers we need. With Charger, you will see that change."
The Charger has a standard 3.5-liter V-6 and an optional 5.7-liter Hemi V-8. Electronic stability control, antilock brakes and traction control are standard. An optional performance package offers a specially tuned suspension and wider tires.
Dodge will position the Charger as a vehicle with the ride and handling of a sports car teamed with the convenience of a five-passenger hauler.
Advertising will stress Charger's "modern muscle," Wheeler says.
"We've got this performance vehicle that is true to our heritage but with great safety features in a five-passenger vehicle. You are going to make both spouses very happy because they are each getting what they want," she says.
Advertising will retain the "Grab Life by the Horns" tag line, she says.
Fuel efficiency also will be advertised, Wheeler says. A displacement system on the Charger's Hemi V-8 engine deactivates four cylinders when full power is not needed, improving fuel economy by as much as 20 percent, the Chrysler group says.
Dodge succeeded in reaching buyers new to its showrooms with the introduction of the 2005 Magnum, Wheeler says, adding, "We will do it again with Charger."
Targeted Charger buyers are "trend-setting, young affluent males with incomes from $65,000 to $90,000," the company says. Advertising will be geared to men because that message also appeals to "very strong, independent females," Wheeler says.
"We tend to do really well when we market to men," she says. "When we market to men, we don't turn off women. But when we market to women, we turn off men."
The Charger will compete against volume players such as the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Chevrolet Impala, says Jim Sanfilippo, executive vice president of the automotive consulting firm AMCI in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
"Dodge dealers traditionally rock and roll and get the volume," he says, estimating Charger's annualized volume at 120,000 to 150,000 units. "I have a lot of faith in the dealer organization."
The Charger will be built at the Chrysler group's assembly plant in Brampton, Ontario.