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Dodge future products: Caliber replacement will test Fiat alliance

Wed, 10 Aug 2011

Dodge will get a new compact sedan for the 2013 model year. The sedan, which replaces the Dodge Caliber, is crucial because it will be the first vehicle to showcase the full range of benefits from the Fiat-Chrysler alliance.

The car will be built at Chrysler's Belvidere, Ill., plant on a Fiat platform that has been adapted to the U.S. market, the first of many such products to come. And it will be powered by a high-mileage Fiat-designed engine. It could be shown as early as November.

As part of its rescue package from the federal government, Chrysler agreed to build a 40-mpg car in a U.S. factory. The Dodge compact sedan is that car.

The new compact will help establish Dodge as a destination brand for fuel-efficient vehicles, not just the gas-guzzlers that Dodge and other Chrysler brands have been known for.

Dodge brand in June got a new CEO, Reid Bigland, who also oversees Chrysler Group's U.S. sales and Chrysler Canada. Minus pickups, now branded Ram, Dodge has carved out a sporty image with its "Never Neutral" slogan.

Subcompact car: A Fiat-based subcompact car is on schedule to arrive in 2013, likely as a 2014 model, from a Fiat assembly plant. The car could be a U.S. version of the next-generation Punto, on sale in Europe in 2013.

The car would give Dodge a subcompact to compete with such cars as the Ford Fiesta and Honda Fit.

Caliber replacement: The Caliber hatchback will be replaced in early 2012, likely as a 2013 model, by a Dodge sedan based on Fiat's CUSW platform. CUSW is a lengthened and widened version of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta platform.

To make the Dodge sedan, Chrysler widened the Giulietta's platform by 1.57 inches and lengthened its wheelbase by 1.77 inches. The compact sedan could be shown either at the Los Angeles auto show in November or the Detroit show in January. It will be assembled in Belvidere, Ill.

Fiat-derived powertrain technology will include a 1.4-liter engine equipped with MultiAir variable valve timing mated to a six-speed dual-clutch transmission. A 2.4-liter version of Chrysler's global four-cylinder engine made in Dundee, Mich., also will be available.

Avenger: The fraternal twin of the Chrysler 200 is due to be replaced for the 2014 model year by a mid-sized sedan based on a longer version of Fiat's CUSW architecture. The Avenger replacement is expected to be the first vehicle to use Chrysler's new nine-speed automatic transmission designed for front-wheel-drive models.

Journey: The Journey got a makeover for the 2011 model year with a new interior and other modifications. The Journey, assembled in Toluca, Mexico, is scheduled to continue without major changes until at least 2014.

Charger: For the 2012 model year, the Charger gets an eight-speed automatic transmission licensed from German supplier ZF for rear-drive vehicles. The transmission will initially be offered on Chargers with the Pentastar V6 engine and will improve fuel economy. ZF says a similar transmission improved fuel economy by 11 percent over a ZF six-speed in a similar car. Dodge will continue to offer an awd Charger.

During the third quarter of 2011, Dodge will begin selling an SRT8 version of the Charger powered by a new 6.4-liter Hemi V8 and featuring a Harman Kardon 19-speaker stereo.

Challenger: Dodge's pony car has been getting outsold by its Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang rivals even though it received significant upgrades in 2011, including new engines and a retuned suspension. No major changes to the Challenger are planned for 2012.

Viper: The redesigned Viper, the flagship of Chrysler's newly revived SRT performance brand, is due to launch in late 2012, probably as a 2013 model. Unveiling is planned for the first quarter of next year. Expect the next-generation Viper to be made where it was made previously, at Chrysler's Conner Avenue plant. SRT brand boss Ralph Gilles said customers will be given plenty of options to customize their Vipers. Contrary to some reports, which had the Viper on a Maserati platform, the Viper will be all Chrysler. The car will debut with a V10 engine; a beefed-up V8 could be added later.

Grand Caravan: Under Chrysler's new minivan pricing strategy, the Dodge Grand Caravan is geared to the under-$30,000 market while the Chrysler Town & Country caters to the luxury minivan segment above $30,000.

The Grand Caravan lately has outsold the Town & Country by a wide margin. In 2011, Dodge launched the Grand Caravan R/T, otherwise known as the "Man Van," an effort to reposition the minivan beyond soccer moms.

Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has said he would like to widen the gap between the Dodge and Chrysler minivans, possibly making one into a crossover. The crossover, probably for the Dodge brand, would have four traditionally hinged doors while the minivan--most likely for the Chrysler brand--would keep rear sliding doors. But sources say no decision has been made on the fate of the minivans, which have been mainstays of their brands. The next generation of Chrysler Group's minivans is due in 2014, likely for the 2015 model year.

Nitro: The last Nitro will be made in December. It won't return as a 2012 model as the company devotes its resources to its fraternal twin, the Jeep Liberty.

Durango: Redesigned for the 2011 model year, the Durango continues largely unchanged for 2012-14. One of Chrysler's priorities is to make the new eight-speed automatic transmission available in the Durango and its Jeep Grand Cherokee sibling.

Luca Ciferri contributed to this report

By Bradford Wernle- Automotive News