All Signs Point to Production for the Dodge Hornet Concept

The spunky little Dodge Hornet took home our Best Concept award at the Geneva motor show last March (“Swiss Spotlight,” March 13) because, well, it’s so cool Dodge would be dumb not to build it.

The Hornet breathes excitement into the economy B-segment with its imposing, hunkered-down stance and a supercharged 170-hp inline-four. The car’s stylish and super-functional interior is equally impressive.

That Dodge allowed a Hornet test drive in Detroit indicates a likelihood of production, though honchos will not confirm that.

Instead, top brass like Tom Tremont, vice president of advanced design and strategy, allowed, “Right now we don’t have a small car like the Hornet, and if the market continues

the way it is, we’ll have to consider smaller cars in the very near term.”

That’s obvious. The B-segment is filling with newcomers like the Honda Fit and Nissan Versa, and gas prices are not falling. If the Hornet dies, Dodge could be way late to this small-car game. Hornet designer Mark Moushegian wants to see the car built.

“When I was designing the Hornet, I kept in mind this car had the potential for production,” Moushegian said. “That’s why I added wipers, which is rare for a concept. I did that to add more realism, to help drive the message home to build it.”

Other real-world features include a higher seating position to reduce the small-car feel, and rear seats that track back 8.8 inches to provide limo-like legroom.

There is in fact such an abundance of room in Hornet’s aftermarket-style interior (think headrest TVs and a bin to house a PlayStation) that the car is more C- than B-segment. The passenger and back seats fold flat into the floor, making for a ton of cargo capacity.

A short drive in the Hornet was not enough to exercise the supercharged engine; as a concept, it drives like a life-sized Power Wheels car: It doesn’t handle and it is slow—around 25-mph slow. But the exhaust emits a raspy note befitting Hornet’s group-B rally-car inspiration, and it’s the kind of affordable transportation that “doesn’t feel like a car you have to drive,” said Tremont.

Dodge will need assistance if it builds the Hornet, and Mitsubishi and Volkswagen are prime candidates to help offset costs.

“The B-segment hasn’t been very big here, and the cars are from companies that have already been making them elsewhere,” Tremont said. “These are not high-profit-per-unit cars, and it’s better if we can spread the costs around with a partner.”

All signs point to the Hornet hitting a production line before 2009, ahead of a European debut that will help Dodge establish an international portfolio. Expect the car to then set course for North America.  Source: Autoweek