Dodge Hornet: What if Dodge Created B-Segment Car?
Unlike the Lexus concept at this year’s Geneva auto show that took safety and driving aids into a whole other dimension, Dodge explored what form a Class B entry might take in their range. Maximizing interior space and generating a cool look were far more important to this concept.
“Class B”, “B-Class”, “B-Segment” are interchangeable terms that are used mostly in the Asian and European industry to identify very small cars designed for space and fuel efficiency. In the USA, these cars may be referred to as subcompacts.
As Dodge expands its sales internationally
, new segments are under consideration. Small cars are an important segment in Europe and one with some growth in the States, but Dodge does not currently have a suitable platform. The Dodge Hornet concept could be considered an audition. Dodge would like to have a Class B entry, but without a platform, they need a partner. What better way to audition than to show off what you can do?
The basics: Hornet is a front-wheel-drive, three-door hatchback with a 170HP 1.6L SOHC 16v four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed manual transmission. Suspension is MacPherson strut in front and semi-independent in rear. For this aggressive-look concept, the design includes nineteen-inch wheels and tires and an estimated 6.7-second 0-to-60-mph time. Pedal-to-the-metal and sawing through the gears to max RPM.
Back in November 2005, a VehicleVoice Blog commented on the existence of a periodic jihad on sport utility vehicles in the USA and worldwide. The introduction of General Motors’ GMT900 SUVs – the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, the GMC Yukon and Yukon XL, plus the Cadillac Escalade and Escalade ESV have set the earth-is-flat crowd wailing again.
Audi Q7 Latest Target of SUV Jihad… This Time From British – Austrian Axis
But June 2006 intro of the Audi Q7 in the USA following its earlier introduction in Europe also will be watched closely. As Audi is about the last major brand to add an SUV to its lineup, it is a fresh target for the anti-SUV crowd. The March 2006 issue of CAR Magazine is a case in point. Georg Kacher, a 6-foot, 13-inch Austrian based in Germany, writes, “Big, heavy, chunky, aggressive, unwieldy – SUVs deplete our resources, tear up the countryside and flatten whatever they hit.
So why does a company like Audi, renowned for advanced engineering enter this bad karma segment?”
Because the market is allegedly craving a mud-crawler made in Ingolstadt, and because Audi firmly believes it can add a new dimension to the SUV game.”
As with many non-USA automotive journalists and even American buff book scribes, Kacher’s loathing of SUVs is mis-directed.
SUVs respond more to customer pull than manufacturer push. After the demise of station wagons (or estates as the Europeans so lovingly call them) and the image black hole called Minivans, came sport utility vehicles. These jack-of-all-trades vehicles carry people and stuff with aplomb. Well… more aplomb today than at any time in the past when they were admittedly crude trucks with a closed in cargo area. They go anywhere, anytime, with anyone, carrying anything within reason. They come in all flavors from the late and not particularly lamented Ford Excursion to the Suzuki Vitara. Populated between the Excursion and Vitara are SUVs of every ilk. Some are suited for suburban streets only. Some are rock crawlers. Some are designed to tow horse trailers and boats.
The beauty of SUVs is the breadth of choice within the segment. The SUV buyer has the luxury of choosing between more brands and more models than ever before. Like the overall auto industry, the larger SUV segment is atomizing into smaller and smaller niche entries.
Choice is good and Audi is welcomed.
Caliber Gets 125HP per Liter
Introduced with the help of Dodge NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne at the 2006 Chicago Auto Show, about the time standard models began arriving at dealerships, the SRT Group introduced its take on the Caliber, and your faithful VehicleVoice and AutoPacific correspondents were on hand for the introduction.
Along with developing the current Viper RT/10 coupe and convertible, SRT has been hard at work since it was formally created in 2002, adding horsepower, suspension, braking, and interior/exterior styling cues for top-line takes on models including the old Neon, Crossfire, 300C, Magnum, Charger, Grand Cherokee, Ram, and now Caliber. SRT is made up of a group that is passionate about what they do, and it shows in the lineup.
While the standard Caliber tops out at 172HP, the Caliber gets a turbocharged version of the 2.4L DOHC 16v four-cylinder engine tuned to 300HP and 260 lb-ft of torque. SRT promises a sub-six-second 0-to-60-mph time. The engine is mated to a standard six-speed manual transmission, but the package is offered only in front-drive form. Pricing has not been announced, but executives told us that this decision to go front-drive only is in part to keep the Caliber’s price reasonable. Among the goals of SRT is to bring their benchmark performance models to market at the lowest possible price, and adding the AWD system would drive the Caliber SRT4 price too close to that of entries like Subaru WRX STi and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX. Both of those cars require an investment of $32,000 or more.
Rampage Concept Takes On Chicago
One of the most interesting concepts at the 2006 Chicago Auto Show was the Dodge Rampage pickup truck. As an increase in trucks for personal use, versus commercial or work use, caused a boom in truck sales this century, some are looking to where the future is for these nontraditional truck buyers. Though Ford’s Explorer Sport Trac was ahead of GM’s midgate-equipped full-size Chevrolet Avalanche and Cadillac Escalade EXT and Hummer H2 SUT, the Ford was effectively an Explorer with an open cargo area, while the GM system truly expanded functionality. Subaru‘s Baja fits in there somewhere, though too small and lightweight to really play well with trucks. Then the Honda Ridgeline arrived for 2006, winning both Truck of the Year and honors from both Motor_Trend and a group of North American automotive journalists, though sales have not quite met expectations. There are now six products of this type on market, competing in several different truck segments (or in SUV segments, depending on your perspective). But in the final analysis, think of Rampage as a Honda Ridgeline with a HEMI.
took a crack a developing their own truck-plus-SUV concept for the 2006 Chicago auto show, and AutoPacific
correspondents were on hand to see it. We left before the public got a chance to see the concept, but industry buzz around the show was positive. We think the truck looked terrific, and appreciate Dodge’s ability to keep its clear personality and flavor in varied vehicle types. Alongside the Rampage in Chicago were the Dodge Nitro and Caliber SRT-4, both with aggressive and strong Dodge personalities as well.
A Year After the Concept, Production Nitro Introduced in Chicago
Dodge heads into the 2007MY competing in two new segments with two all-new entries. Along with the just-launched Caliber that we recently drove and reviewed, the Nitro arrives later in the year. Nitro is a traditional, four-door, five-passenger SUV with styling aimed at guys more than women. While the Chrysler Group’s Jeep Liberty, with which the Dodge Nitro shares production space, appeals more to women, the Nitro’s more aggressive attitude is expected to pull in more men. Its official introduction is this week at the 2006 Chicago Auto Show, the same venue that hosted the concept car a year ago.
Among the difficulties with joining a full segment will be getting through the clutter. At least on paper, the Nitro is a strong entry. But the small and mid-size SUV segments include as many as twenty-five entries, depending on definitions, and that means a lot of competition for attention. With its optional 255HP V6, Nitro is near the top in terms of horsepower, and its relationship to Jeep’s Liberty should give it decent off-road capability. Dodge has also given it the ability to tow as much as 5000 pounds, properly equipped. The Nitro also looks to further support Dodge’s performance slant, with an on-road performance-tuned suspension optional for some models.
Dodge Takes a Chance With a Hatchback. The Caliber is Dodge‘s new compact car entry, going on sale as we write these words. Taking the place of the Neon in Dodge showrooms, the Caliber is offered as a five-door hatchback. Dodge is right on in adopting this new bodystyle; while not a trendsetter in choosing to offer only a five-door hatchback, Dodge is ahead of the curve. Hatchbacks and wagons aren’t poised to overtake sedans in volume, but there is growing demand for vehicles with flexible interiors and these usually take a hatchback silhouette.
As a hatchback, the Caliber will not see volumes like the Neon (best year, 1996, nearly 140,000 Neons found homes; in 2005 about 113,300 were sold). But success today can be more accurately measured in per-unit profit than in pure volume, and Dodge may find a solid payoff for its risk.
correspondents were among the media who got a chance to explore the Caliber up close and take a first spin around the block. Here’s our report.
The all new Dodge Caliber is a good example of global cooperation in automotive product development. Caliber overcomes daunting challenges of cross-continent and cross-cultural communications.
Major Participants – Chrysler Group – Mitsubishi – Hyundai – JATCO
The basic platform is from Mitsubishi. Called the GS Platform, the basic parameters were established years ago while DaimlerChrysler was still an equity holder in Mitsubishi Motors. After DCX divested itself of its MMC shares, the contractural relationship with Mitsubishi on the GS platform continued. Over time, Chrysler Group will get numerous GS spin-offs including the Dodge Caliber, Jeep Compass, Jeep Patriot, Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Stratus. Mitsubishi-based platforms will occupy two Chrysler Group plants – Belvidere, Illinois and Sterling Heights, Michigan.
While the basic platform is a Mitsubishi, everything from the floorplan up – meaning the sheetmetal and interior trim is unique to Chrysler.
Wondering if the relationship was cordial or strained after the break-up, Chrysler managers were very complimentary about working with Mitsubishi’s Japanese product development groups.
But that is not the end of the story. That only gets us the basic platform but not the powertrain. This is where the Global Engine Alliance comes in.
DETROIT’S MUSCLE-CAR REVIVAL: ALL ABOUT STREET CRED
The latest Mustang is a success in the image ranks and in the buff books. Its sales success has surprised even Ford and production capacity has been increased so they can sell even more. The other historic Detroit brands will revisit the rear-wheel-drive coupe idea at the 2006 North American International Motor Show in Detroit. The first announced concept is the Dodge Challenger shown below. Still under wraps is a new generation Chevrolet Camaro.
Though Ford has consistently offered a Mustang since 1964 and kept it alive (even if some iterations were less memorable than others), both GM and Chrysler Group abandoned the product formula. Mustang has the edge and success at GM, Chrysler Group, or for any other contenders requires that they establish modern-day credibility with the consumer.
In the heart of most car product planners at American car companies beats a rear-wheel-drive V8-powered coupe or convertible, going much further back than the muscle-car era that gets so much attention these days. As a result, whether timing is by design or by reaction, Dodge and Chevrolet are expected to show concepts on the muscle-car theme at the 2006 Detroit show this January.
What’s the next “new” concept for the Chrysler Group’s successful rear-wheel-drive platform? Back to the history books. Dodge cannot resist the temptation to revive a muscle car entry, given the available rear-wheel-drive platform and current powertrains. Though Dodge may have gone this direction without the success of the latest Mustang, consumer’s response to the latest Mustang is certainly cause for inspiration.
Where the Charger played on the heritage name and some cues in an unapologetic modern package and interpretation, the Challenger is instead all about reviving an icon. The Challenger will be the star of the Dodge stage at this year’s Detroit auto show and likely previews a production car. The concept was directly inspired by the 1970 Challenger, and mirrors that shape and look as best it can on the modern platform.
Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine (December 2005) selects the Best New Cars in several price classes. Their selections are as follows:
Best New Car under $18,000: 2006 Honda Civic. “With its sleek, aerodynamic look, the new Civic gets more power without sacrificing fuel efficiency. Six airbags are now standard equipment.” [Best in Class: Volkswagen New Beetle]
Best New Car – $18,000 – $23,000: 2006 Hyundai Sonata. “It has classy good looks and is surprisingly refined for around $20,000. It also has the most standard safety equipment in its class.”
Best New Car – $23,000 – $30,000: 2006 Dodge Charger R/T. “Under the hood it’s a whole lot like the Chrysler 300C. But it has a sportier suspension, a lower sticker price and the DNA of a Daytona winner.” [Best in Class: Mini Cooper S Convertible]
Best New Car – $30,000 – $45,000: 2006 Buick Lucerne CXS. “Buick’s large-sedan replacement for the LeSabre offers V6 and V8 power, heated and cooled seats, and remote start. Front bench seats are an option.” [Best in Class: Acura TL]
Best New Car – $45,000 and Over: 2006 Mercedes-Benz CLS55 AMG. “From the performance division of Mercedes-Benz comes a new class with style and luxury to spare. It smothly powers from zero to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds.” [Best in Class: Lexus LS430]
Best New Sports Car: 2006 Mazda (Miata) MX-5. “The best-selling roadster gets a thoughtful redesign. Now there is more zoom as well as more room – enough to fit a supermarket haul in the trunk.” [Best in Class: Chevrolet Corvette]
Best New SUV: 2006 Range Rover Sport. “Think of it as a rugged sport sedan, equally at home on city seats or on the savanna.” [Best in Class: Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland]
Best New Crossover Vehicle: 2006 Toyota Highlander Hybrid. “This hybrid utility vehicle gets 33mpg in the city, but it’s no slouch when accelerating. The electric motors give it more power than the V6 gas model.” [Best in Class: Honda Pilot]