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Aussie push for Dodge Charger, Challenger

Global shift: The next-generation Dodge Charger is expected to be built on a global platform shared with other FCA brands such as Alfa Romeo, making it easier to create a case for right-hand-drive engineering in lower-volume markets such as Australia.

FCA Australia pushes case for right-hand-drive production of next Dodge muscle cars

Dodge logo21 Nov 2016

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

FIAT Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Australia is pushing the case with head office in Detroit for right-hand-drive production of the next-generation Dodge Charger and Challenger performance cars.

While the redesigned muscle cars are not due to be released until 2019, discussions are being held between the Australian subsidiary and its US parent company over whether the car-maker invests in right-hand-drive engineering for both models.

Current and previous iterations were only ever built in left-hand drive.

Taking the plunge on right-hand drive depends on whether FCA can make the numbers add up, as there are only three major right-hook markets – Australia, the United Kingdom and Japan.

Helping the business case is the success the Ford Mustang has enjoyed in Australia. The Dodge Challenger is in the same style of the so-called ‘pony car’, while the Charger is a coupe-style four-door sedan with aggressive muscle car overtones.

According to FCA Australia president and CEO Steve Zanlunghi, the Charger could be a perfect fit for disenfranchised Australians who would have traditionally bought the performance versions of the now-extinct Ford Falcon and soon-to-be-phased-out rear-drive Holden Commodore.

“So we’ve obviously had a discussion on it, and we’re looking at the business case, because we know what Mustang does in Australia,” Mr Zanlunghi told journalists at last week’s Los Angeles auto show.

“We are constantly searching for new opportunities in the marketplace, and that’s one of them, especially now that we’ve lost the Falcon and going to lose the local Commodore. So if we can make a business case out of it, then I think you’ll see those vehicles in Australia.”

Supporting Mr Zanlunghi’s pitch is confirmation from FCA Group chief operating officer for the Asia-Pacific region, Michael Manley, that the ground-up newness of the next-generation Challenger/Charger platform means it is much easier to engineer for right-hand drive.

Speculation is rife that the ‘Giorgio’ architecture developed for the Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan and other models might form the basis for a range of other rear-drive and/or all-wheel-drive vehicles in the FCA artillery, including the American muscle cars.

“If the decision was made, it would be made for the next-generation platform on the vehicle,” he said. “And that actually is going to help Steve’s case, because as you move towards next-generation platform, they tend to be more global, therefore they tend to be much more easy to package.

“All the RHD components … could be shared across other cars – which makes it a lot easier, because then you’re adding up more than one volume per brand,” he said.

“And though all the DNA of Dodge would still be in that car, the number of components could be shared across other cars – which makes it a lot easier, because then you’re adding up more than one volume per brand.”

Mr Manley added that it was also “a lot cheaper” working with an all-new global platform “because of the issues that we run into – particularly with all of the emissions standards and the way that our engines are packaged today”.

“Once the packaging has been set for left-hand drive, it’s really difficult to find all the space you need to get all the right-hand-drive systems in there effectively, so that’s why the next-gen platforms are more global in their approach gives us more opportunity,” he said.

“And that’s why it (Giorgio) is a great example of a global platform … because of the strength of that platform. When I think about next-gen for any of our vehicles, elements of that platform are going to find their way into other vehicles … brake systems for example. Not the things that create that unique driving experience for that Alfa.” However, Mr Manley warned that if the next-generation Challenger and Charger were to be imported into Australia, it would not happen for a number of years.

“Realistically, if that was to happen, you’re probably still three years out,” he said.

The home-market success of the existing Charger and Challenger, launched in 2006 and 2008 respectively, has also given FCA a lot more confidence to take the Dodge pair out to the greater world.

One insider revealed that nobody foresaw the popularity or longevity of the original versions, and that had come as a pleasant surprise to the company.

Derived from the Chrysler 300 series, they use a variation of the rear-drive LX platform that contains a front end from the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the rear axle from the W212 Mercedes E-Class – the corollary of the DaimlerChrysler years when the Germans were in charge.

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