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Eight isn’t enough for FCA Australia

Hell bent: The Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat has a lot of interest Down Under, but left-hand drive only configuration means it is off the agenda, for now.

Performance V8s still on the radar for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Australia

Fiat logo28 Aug 2015

By STUART MARTIN

FIAT Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Australia is kicking off its renewal with a V8-powered brute that could be a sign of things to come, if its parent company decides increase its right-hand drive output.

With a horde of hot V8-powered machines on its books in its United States home market under the Dodge, Jeep and SRT banners, the Italian-American conglomerate could soon become the first stop for V8 performance vehicles, if they are built in right-hand drive.

Local FCA representatives are itching to get their hands on brawny, macho hero cars like the Dodge Challenger and its four-door Charger sibling to give the brand a jump-start, but both are near the end of their life cycle and are unlikely for an engineering tweak to right-hand drive in their current generations.

History shows the conversion needs to be engineered from the ground-up, meaning 2017/18 at the earliest if the company decides to produce RHD versions, and the brand has suffered from after-thought changeovers before.

While sales of V8s have dropped in recent years, there is fresh interest in big, V8-powered models, with Ford getting plenty of pre-orders for the Mustang and recording significant interest in the last Falcon XR8, while low-volume importers and converters are getting customers for Chevrolet Camaro and Corvette sportscars.

The fact that FCA managed to keep the Chrysler 300 SRT in production despite its absence from US price lists, as well as getting Australian tastes transferred to the chassis, speaks volumes for its voice being heard across the Pacific.

FCA Australia senior manager of product strategy Alan Swanson said the demand for V8 performance models justifies a presence in its line-up.

“We think Australia’s performance-car market remains as strong as ever, and we absolutely believe there’s a place for performance-focussed V8s in our Australian line-up,” he said at the laucnh of the Chrysler 300 SRT in Sydney.

“We’ve made no secret of how much we love the Dodge Challenger and Charger, and we’d love to see them here, especially in Hellcat form.

“Those conversations are continuing, but we think those kinds of fun, powerful V8 performance vehicles will always have a special place here in Australia.

“The demand for Hellcats in the USA has been phenomenal, to the point where our USA factories are doubling production of the Hellcat engine for the 2016 model year, so obviously Australians aren’t alone in their love of a performance V8.”

Dodge’s Journey is the brand’s sole offering here and troubled the scorers last year to the tune of 1547 units, a 6.9 per cent drop its 2015 sales of 814 are down another 16 per cent.

But elsewhere in the group's portfolio there is brand re-building underway and FCA Australia director of corporate communications Lucy McLellan said the company was focussed on revamping the ranges across its portfolio.

The next Chrysler Voyager people-mover is reportedly set to be revealed at next year's Detroit motor show, but no decision has yet been made on the model's Australian plans, given the small volumes in the MPV segment.

“The next Voyager will soon be revealed but we haven't made a decision either way on whether we will take it,” she said.

“I've seen the car and it looks sensational but I don't know if we will take it. We do have two other seven-seaters in our line-up, the Fiat Freemont and Dodge Journey, whether or not it's worth it to have a third,” she said.

Last year Chrysler sales fell by 38 per cent to 1657 sales, with the Voyager people-mover raising just 77 sales for the entire year, while the 300 in run-out mode dropped by 37 per cent to 1580. The arrival of the refreshed 300 in July could not come quickly enough and is expected to counter the poor start of just 596 sales, down by 51 per cent year to date.

The Fiat brand will launch the facelifted 500 city car and the 500X mini-SUV into Australian showrooms early next year, as well as the hot-hatch Abarth Biposto halo car to further spark interest in the Italian brand.

Also due next year is the Fiat 124 convertible, based on the Mazda MX-5, which is part of the brand's move back into a premium space alongside Alfa Romeo, according to Ms McLellan.

“Fiat has things moving in a different direction to what it was ... Fiat and Alfa Romeo are moving into a more premium space, we're not aiming to be in competition with the Japanese or the Germans.”

Ms McLellan said Fiat was not the main focus at the moment and that the Alfa Romeo range would be the one to watch next year.

“We still have Punto and Panda on sale, but the showroom is changing,” she said.

The Panda was quietly discontinued in July following slow sales, but it is believed that there is still some stock left in dealerships.

Last year Fiat finished with 5758 passenger car sales – a 49.4 per cent improvement on the back of re-priced and revamped 500, Panda, Freemont and Punto sales, but its 2015 run so far has not held that pace, down nearly 20 per cent.

The Fiat Professional light-commercial van range was steady in 2014 on 1236 sales (up by just 0.2 per cent), held up by the Scudo’s strong result, but it is down by 13.4 per cent this year to 726 sales.

Alfa Romeo finished last year with 2498 sales, a 5.3 per cent increase on the back of strong interest in the Giulietta’s, but its start to 2015 has fallen away by 40.4 per cent to just over 1000 sales so far this year.

The repositioning of the refreshed Giulietta late last year when it lost the base sub-$25,000 version has had an impact on its sales which are down by 50.9 per cent to the end of July.

Jeep was well up last year despite a host of recalls, increasing by 37 per cent to 30,408 sales.

The off-roading brand was led largely by the model with many of the recalls, the Grand Cherokee, which finished the year 28 per cent ahead the new mid-size Cherokee also contributed nearly 4000 sales.

So far this year it too has suffered, recording 16,213 sales (a 2.3 per cent fall) with Cherokee the only positive news at 4705 so far this year.

With the new Renegade coming in October to further boost incremental sales potential, as well as reports of more smaller SUVs and rumours of a Hellcat-powered Trackhawk, Jeep’s list is littered with potential winners for the brand Down Under.

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