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Decision soon on Dodge Down Under

Aussie hope: The 2004 Dodge Durango is one of many vehicles under consideration for Australia.

Yank musclecar return to Australia decision three months away

Dodge logo3 Oct 2003

By MARTON PETTENDY

A DECISION on the return of the Dodge brand to Australia will be made in the next three months, according to senior Chrysler Group executives.

It would be positioned as a less expensive, bolder and more powerful sibling brand to Jeep and Chrysler if the thumbs-up is given. And, contrary to popular opinion, US-built, Dodge-badged trucks, such as the new Durango, would not form the sole basis of the brand here, with a full range of passenger vehicles likely to be offered.

"We are considering bringing the Dodge brand overseas, including to Australia, and that would include new cars that people haven’t seen yet from Dodge," said Chrysler executive director international sales and marketing, Thomas Hausch, at the Frankfurt motor show.

"We’ll make a decision on it (Aussie sale) this year and I and (Chrysler head) Dieter Zetsche are very sympathetic to it.

"But he and I and all of us at Chrysler want to be sure that the business case is absolutely rock solid, because if we bring the cars in it won’t be for a few years but forever.

"So a brand decision is a big one and we’re very proud that even in our worst times two years ago Chrysler or Jeep have never withdrawn from any market in the world."Mr Hausch made it clear that the first Dodge vehicle headed for Australia would be a small car, but stressed the brand’s entry into the local passenger car segment would not be kicked off by a Dodge-badged Neon, a model that has been tried and failed in Australia.

"You can expect a doubling of right-hand drive Chrysler group vehicles and that includes expansion to the lower segments – and you’ll notice I stressed Chrysler group vehicles, not just Chrysler vehicles," he said.

"There will be for sure C and D segment applications available, but the one thing it (the first Dodge vehicle) won’t be is a Neon.

"Our current international strategy involves the whole line-up of Chrysler group products. We do not have a plan of using Dodge trucks as a base overseas, but they could very well be a part of it."If approved, Mr Hausch said the introduction of Dodge would be aided by Chrysler Jeep Australia’s dealer network.

"One thing we know from the US is that you can a have Chrysler Jeep at a Dodge dealer, so it’s not launching a totally new brand with a new network. We feel very comfortable that the line-up in our showrooms is complimentary, not substitutional.

"But it would not have worked in the past: even today we have a weaker separation in terms of our Dodge and Chrysler passenger cars that will go away in the next generation. If we did Dodge we’d make sure that from a global point of view the brand strategy would fit.

"Jeep is the ultimate off-road vehicle that has a lot of luxury in it as well, but not at any price. On the Dodge side it’s more about the bold and powerful expression, so for example for a Dodge truck or SUV it’s quite okay to sell 2x4s that are capable of going on not too extreme off-road terrain – going off the road but not on the hill."The company had also decided that the Dodge brand was not a premium brand, but a brand that brings performance and power.

"It’s something bold and capable and it would be the wrong thing to call these things Chryslers," Mr Hausch said.

"We would never launch cars that are from a brand perspective not what they promise and I don’t think if you have a strategy of defining the brand by the product and not the other way around that you need to invest a fortune in it or that customers have trouble understanding that it is."Mr Hausch is aware that Chrysler Group has some serious brand building to do in Australia, advancing his belief that the Voyager people-mover is a more popular name here than the Chrysler brand.

"In Europe and I bet in Australia, the Voyager (name) is more popular than Chrysler, so we have our work cut out to make sure that with PT (Cruiser), Crossfire and 300C the consumer understands this a real big proposition from a brand that is very premium," he said.

UPSURGE IN SALES

CHRYSLER Jeep Australia is set to reach its 2003 target of 7000 sales, following a belated upsurge in sales from May.

Two-thirds of CJA’s sales volume continues to come from Jeep following the demise of Neon last year, with the new Cherokee being the star performer, led by a well received diesel version.

CJA sales in 2002 numbered 6670 and the arrival of an all-new Grand Cherokee next year is expected to further increase sales from 2004.

CHRYSLER BACKS FREE TRADE DEAL

CHRYSLER has joined Holden in backing a free trade agreement with the US.

The US arm of DaimlerChrysler describes Australia’s current tariff and local development incentive system as a cumbersome no-man’s land between fully free trade between Australia and the US, and a fully protected industry, which Australia will move further away from by reducing import tariffs from 15 to 10 per cent in 2005.

"I think at this stage for Australia it would be beneficial to change the current policy," said Chrysler executive director international sales and marketing, Thomas Hausch.

"For example, for us it is very cumbersome to work with suppliers based on the current rules so we either appreciate going the South African way where they just say, source parts from us and you get an import benefit, or you just open it totally.

"But the current (situation) where you have to prove development work in the country is sort of a neutral thing that doesn’t seem to work for me when I have to make a business decision. So we’d be happy if we had an opening.

"I don’t want to be too vocal on it because it has to be what’s good for society and trade account balances," Mr Hausch said.

"But from my very business sense you can go two ways and right now we’re somewhere in the middle."

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