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Dodge set for Australian reboot

Light fantastic: The next-generation version of the Ram 1500 light-duty pick-up truck is likely to come to Australia as part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' expansion in to right-hand drive markets.

Next-gen Dodge models on the way with focus on performance cars, Ram trucks

8 Apr 2016

FIAT Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) has confirmed that the Dodge brand will offer an expanded line-up in Australia, putting an end to speculation about the one-model marque's future Down Under.

The only Dodge model available in Australia is the ageing Journey crossover-MPV that launched in 2008. The Australian distributor killed off slow-selling models such as the Avenger mid-size sedan and Caliber crossover in mid-2010, while the boxy Nitro SUV was discontinued here in mid-2012.

Rumours started to circulate in 2012 that the Australian arm of what was then known as the Chrysler Group was planning to ditch the Dodge brand, but in 2013 senior management said that Dodge had a future in Australia.

In what was the clearest confirmation of a rebirth for the Dodge brand to date, FCA Australia president and CEO Pat Dougherty told journalists at a media event this week that more Dodge models are on the way, adding that it is likely to include smaller Ram pick-ups.

“We do plan to have more Dodge products in the market going forward but it is kind of dependant on the long-range plan and the development of the new products,” he told journalists.

“As you know, coming in after a left-hand drive product is developed and trying to make it right-hand drive brings with it more costs than developing it upfront.

“So on the refreshes of some of the Dodge product that you could imagine and potentially Ram products, light-duty Ram-type products, as those products renew, the plans going forward would be to include Australia in the mix.” Mr Dougherty indicated that there would not be any conflict with fully-imported Ram product and the heavy-duty Ram 2500 and 3500 models that are converted to right-hand drive by Australian Special Vehicles – a joint venture between Ateco Automotive and Holden Special Vehicles’ sister company, Walkinshaw Automotive Group.

“We work very closely with Neville (Ateco chairman Neville Crichton) and Ateco and I don’t think we would have any real major conflicts relating to Ram going forward,” he said.

“And that (2500 and 3500) is a more specialised market. We really want to compete in the more volume section of the truck market.” When it arrives in next-generation guise, possibly after 2018, the Ram 1500 would line-up against the one-tonne pick-ups that dominate the Australian light-commercial vehicle segment, such as the Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger.

Mr Dougherty said right-hand drive development was now part of a wider global strategy for all future Dodge products and hinted that the brand's future in Australia could be centred around performance-honed models.

“It is always dependant upon a business case,” he said.

“But we will get a chance to put a business case forward. And I think there are certain products that would really resonate well here. Australians love cars. The more performance-oriented cars they love.” While FCA executives declined to specify which models, it is likely to include the 527kW Charger SRT Hellcat – the world's fastest, most powerful four-door production sedan – and potentially high-performance versions of the two-door retro-styled Challenger.

When FCA announced its five-year strategic plan in 2014, it confirmed that Dodge would become a performance brand and it would be home to SRT-badged hi-po models.

In Australia, the SRT badge is found on the Grand Cherokee and the 300 sedan. So popular is the 300 SRT that Australia is only one of a handful of markets - along with the Middle East – to offer the variant.

FCA Australia director marketing and product strategy Zac Loo said the seven-seat Dodge Durango SUV is another one of the models being considered for Australia, but it is unlikely in its existing guise given restrictions on right-hand drive production. “We have looked at Durango before,” Mr Loo said.

“For us it is a question of which product for which need. We are obviously looking at what we have in the global portfolio to decide what goes into that segment.

“Durango is the genuine seven seat. Again, it is existing product in its life-cycle so potentially we will come back and go for it in its next generation.

“If not, we will look for what else we have as an opportunity. But there is interest for us in something like that.” Mr Loo explained that twice a year FCA representatives from right-hand drive markets meet to develop plans to push for RHD production of some models that appeal to the various markets, which has helped the case for Australia.

“Part of it is making the business case big enough so we always align with our other markets to look for as much opportunity as possible to put forward best possible case.” Mr Loo said the push for more right-hand drive also related to the Chrysler brand, which is now FCA's second one-model marque in Australia after the Grand Voyager people-mover ended production last year.

“The best part of having such a diverse group is we can pick what we think is most appropriate for the market,” he said.

“For us it is just finding the opportunities that resonate the most strongly with Australian consumers and Chrysler is in the exact same conversations with Dodge and Jeep and the other side, Fiat and Alfa.

“Yes, it is a one-car brand at the moment but that is the beauty of the way we are set up is that we see on opportunity for it and we can sustain it. It works well for us to have that particular model (300) in the market.”

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