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Ram raid: The Dodge badge is set to depart Australia as it retreats to being a US-only brand.

Chrysler poised to abandon Dodge brand in Australia as Fiat plans take shape

24 Apr 2012

DODGE is set to be dropped from the Australian market, with Chrysler Australia planning to expand the Fiat range in this country to encompass vehicles that would otherwise have been introduced here as Dodge models.

The Dodge Journey SUV-style people-mover – currently the only model still offered by the American brand in Australia and only recently facelifted – will almost certainly become the Fiat Freemont, as previewed at the Geneva motor show last month before going into production in Mexico in the second half of this year.

And the Holden Cruze-size Dodge Dart that caused a stir when it debuted at the Detroit motor show in January will come here as the Fiat Viaggio if the company reverses its decision not to build the car in right-hand drive.

Ironically, Viaggio is Italian for ‘journey’, but the sedan has no connection to the Dodge SUV of that name.

Fiat chose this week’s Beijing motor show for the global debut of the Viaggio, which is based on the underpinnings of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta and will go into production in China from late June.

 center imageFrom top: Fiat Freemont, Fiat Viaggio, Dodge Journey.

Chrysler Australia officials have been meeting in Beijing with colleagues from parent company Fiat to discuss future plans for its Fiat and Alfa Romeo brands, which officially come under the control of the company from May 1.

Senior Chrysler group executive Michael Manley – whose many job titles include chief operating officer of Fiat-Chrysler Asia Pacific and is therefore responsible for the Australian operation – told Australian media in Beijing that a final decision had not yet been made, but that Dodge’s days in Australia were numbered.

Dodge has retreated from most international markets as it refocuses on its strong North American home territory.

“We haven’t taken a decision to formally kill Dodge in Australia, but if we follow the same pattern as we have in other international markets then it’s certainly only a matter of time,” said Mr Manley.

A Fiat insider said everyone at Chrysler Australia knows that Dodge is gone, but that the company has a process to go through before formalising a decision and advising dealers.

However, those dealers were already faced with a new Dodge product drought – only the outgoing Journey remains as Caliber and out-of-production Nitro stocks dry up – and they have been more than busy with a boom in Jeep sales.

Dealers also have the prospect of the Voyager-dominated Chrysler brand rebounding in July with the launch of the new 300C large car, and soon they could be pitching for Fiat and Alfa Romeo franchises.

Dodge sales were quite strong in 2012 – up 41.0 per cent on the previous year thanks to the arrival of the Caliber small car – amounting to 2703 units compared with 8648 for Jeep.

In the first quarter of this year, Dodge sales have contracted by 22.9 per cent while Jeep sales have more than doubled over the same period last year, rising from 1733 to 4105.

Adding the Freemont people-mover and Viaggio small-medium sedan would quickly expand Fiat’s passenger-car range in Australia, which currently is limited to the iconic but niche 500 light car.

The Freemont is mechanically identical to the Journey – with a choice of 3.6-litre petrol V6 or 2.0-litre turbo-diesel and front-drive or four-wheel drive – but with Fiat-style front and rear end revisions.

Although Fiat had decided against producing the Dart-based Viaggio sedan in right-hand drive, our company insider said “the probability is quite strong” that a business case put together by Australia and other RHD markets would now be successful.

Chrysler Australia’s new managing director, Clyde Campbell, is believed to have “fallen in love” with the car when it was presented as a Dodge Dart in Detroit and is “extremely keen” to get it here as a Fiat.

As the second-largest Jeep market in the world, Australia has considerably more clout within Fiat and Chrysler than might be expected.

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