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RHD Dodge death could revive Chrysler Charger

ReCharged: Fiat-Chrysler has form when it comes to rebadging its products, making a reborn Chrysler Charger a possibility for Australia once the Dodge brand disappears.

Next-gen Charger could wear Chrysler badges in Oz after Dodge departure

Chrysler logo17 Aug 2012

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI

MUSCLE car fans could see the Chrysler Charger nameplate return to Australia as Dodge faces the axe here – but it is not likely to happen any time soon.

Speaking at a recent media event on his first trip to Australia, the chief operating officer of Fiat-Chrysler Asia-Pacific, Mike Manley, told journalists the key requests he gets from this country are for right-hand-drive Dodge muscle cars and Ram trucks.

He said Australia is Chrysler’s largest RHD export market, while growth in South Africa and “strong” demand in the UK – despite Europe’s economic woes – pointed to “potential for more RHD vehicles rather than less”.

He made no bones about the fact Dodge is unlikely to exist here by the time the next-generation Charger emerges – though this will be quite some time given the current Charger was launched in October 2010, and this would be the first logical opportunity to bring it here.

Fiat-Chrysler Group Australia managing director Clyde Campbell told GoAuto he is committed to the Dodge brand until next year.

He reiterated his position of being loathe to walk away from Dodge while its only right-hand-drive model still in production – the seven-seat Journey people-mover – is attracting respectable sales volumes.

11 center imageFrom top: Fiat-Chrysler Group's Mike Manley and Clyde Campbell Dodge Journey.



“We will probably get 1500-2000 Journey sales this year, (plus) some Nitros,” he said.

“While we continue to get production of the (Journey), why would we walk away from it? “It just doesn’t make sense if it is giving me 2000 sales per year – there are some brands in Australia that would love to be doing 2000 sales per year.”

Mr Campbell noted that the Charger name has a “strong presence” here, where the reference point is Chrysler’s Valiant Charger of the 1970s, but that it makes more sense as a Dodge in the dominant US market.

Both Mr Manley and Mr Campbell agreed there is no chance of an RHD Charger in the current generation.

“It doesn’t make sense to re-engineer a car for right-hand drive part-way through its lifecycle,” said Mr Campbell.

Mr Manley, who is also global president and CEO of Jeep, did not rule out the possibility of an RHD Charger in the future. Though unlikely, he hinted it could be re-branded, depending on how much “intervention” was required.

The Alfa Romeo Giulietta-based Dodge Dart sedan revealed at the Detroit motor show earlier this year was transformed into the Chinese-built Fiat Viaggio using little more than restyled front and rear bumpers and lights.

“It depends on what sort of intervention you want to do because that car (Charger) in particular is all Dodge it screams Dodge,” said Mr Manley.

“That’s important because for me that vehicle is an absolute classic Dodge it would be very hard to put a Chrysler badge on that car.”

Despite this, Mr Manley said he would “never say never” to the reappearance of the Chrysler Charger in Australia.

“I have seen a lot of things in my time in this industry,” he joked.

“If Dodge does not exist in Australia (when the next-generation Charger launches), we have done (re-branding) with the Fiat Fremont and Dodge Journey previously.

“We were able to differentiate those vehicles with relatively small intervention. In Europe, for example, as the old Caliber came out of the market we transferred Journey into a Fiat Fremont, so there is that option.

“I couldn’t say definitively that you will never see a right-hand-drive Dodge Charger in Australia. I would say it is unlikely, but these things are never ruled out.”

Mr Campbell explained his strategy of working with other RHD markets such as South Africa and the UK in a bid to secure production of future Fiat-Chrysler models.

“The factories are over-subscribed at the moment, so to compete for attention that’s where we have got to step out of being an Australian company and combine to be part of a right-hand-drive company.

“For example, then we could say we will take 30,000 new Chargers per year rather than 4000 here and a few thousand there.”

He said the idea was to agree on models and variants that would have common appeal across all markets and submit a business case for their engineering and production.

“We are aligning common requirements like engine capacity, emissions rules in different countries, transmission, driveline, trim levels – it is about working out what will apply across all markets to give us the best chance.”

Earlier this year, Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne revealed plans to reduce the number of overlapping models in the company’s line-up by 2014, with Chrysler’s Voyager people-mover among those in the firing line.

By then the Dodge Journey/Fiat Fremont will be six years old and due for replacement, potentially leaving a people-mover-sized gap in the group’s RHD product line-up.

Among Chrysler’s future products will be a Jeep seven-seater, which GoAuto understands will reprise the Grand Wagoneer badge.

Mr Campbell described this vehicle as “like a Grand Cherokee, but with seven seats”.

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