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Dodge buzzes small car market with Dodge Hornet

A utomakers are swarming the subcompact car market with a vengeance, but is there room for a Hornet?

The Chrysler Group is about to find out when it unveils the new Dodge Hornet at the Geneva Auto Show later this month.

The boxy vehicle is designed to seat four and serve as a global concept.

But whether the Hornet foreshadows Chrysler’s plans for a car smaller than the new Dodge Caliber remains iffy.

“Chrysler is known to bring its concepts very quickly into the market, but believe it or not, we do some concepts where we have not decided yet to produce them,” said Thomas Hausch, Chrysler’s director of international sales and marketing, during a briefing Monday with journalists.

Chrysler has considered building a subcompact as part of its global growth strategy, but executives want to partner with another automaker to reduce engineering and production costs.

While the subcompact market is growing worldwide, it remains far less profitable.

Last month at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Joe Eberhardt, Chrysler vice president of global sales and marketing, said the automaker is primarily interested in a subcompact — or B-segment — car for the international market. While not convinced Americans will embrace tiny vehicles, he wouldn’t rule out the selling them in the U.S. market down the road.

“I am not sure that short term, that small cars are really an alternative for too many people,” Eberhardt said.

Global sales of B-segment cars are exploding, encouraging General Motors Corp, Ford Motor Co., Honda Motor Co. and others to expand offerings in the segment.

Since 2001, sales for subcompacts have ballooned from 9.8 million to about 11.4 million in 2005, according to figures from CSM Worldwide Inc.

The firm projects annual sales of subcompact cars will reach 14.1 million vehicles by 2009. The United States could account for 661,054 units — up from 372,392 last year — and Europe, where small cars are favored, is forecasts to generate some 6.4 million sales.

And while Detroit automakers continue to produce full-size SUVs, they’re also putting smaller wheels on the road.

GM has been selling the Chevrolet Aveo for two years, with U.S. sales reaching more than 68,000 units in 2005. Honda and Nissan Motor Co. are introducing new subcompact cars in the U.S. market this year.

At last month’s auto show in Detroit, Ford introduced its itty-bitty Reflex concept.

“With some of the interior designs and new B segment cars rolling out, people are looking at them as alternatives because these vehicles are pretty nicely made,” said Brian Chee, managing editor of research Web site Autobytel.com.

Today’s more stylish subcompacts are packed not only with fuel-efficient engines, but safety features at bargain prices, Chee said, creating a shift in what car shoppers are buying and a spread of what they’re looking for. The move is similar, he said, to consumers opting to buy a midsize or compact SUV rather than a full-size one.

Though pint-sized, the Dodge Hornet concept doesn’t skimp on the brawny Dodge design.

The car is built on a specially-designed chassis and is almost as wide as slightly larger C-segment vehicles such as the Ford Focus sedan.

The vehicle shown to the media had what Hausch called very flexible seatings. The rear passenger seats fold completely flat.

The car has 19-inch aluminum wheels, arching wheel flares and an oversize sunroof rendered in a deep “blue view” tint which contrasts with its “liquid silver” exterior.

It is equipped with a four-cylinder engine that pumps 170 horsepower.

“It’s purely a concept, but it shows you what the Dodge brand means in terms of future products,” Hausch said.



2006 Dodge Hornet Concept

So far for 2006, DaimlerChrysler Group, and in particular the Dodge brand has gone all out with new introductions. It started the year off with a bang at Detroit’s NAIAS with the jaw-droppingly gorgeous Challenger Concept, followed through with another muscular stroke by introducing the Charger SRT-8 SuperBee, and continued the afront with the compact segment’s newest arrival, the Caliber. And if these weren’t enough, Dodge stole the spotlight in Chicago by debuting three more vehicles, the Nitro midsize SUV, the 300-horsepower Caliber SRT4 and the practical Rampage sport-utility-pickup concept. After doing the rounds on the American auto show circuit, Dodge is off to Europe where it will be promoting the same Nitro and Caliber, plus this new subcompact Hornet Concept at this year’s Geneva Motor Show.

DaimlerChrysler is eager to expand into Europe and beyond, and they’ve marked their intent by delivering vehicles that are daring and experimentive. Look no further than the zen-lounge-inspired Chrysler Akino concept for an example, which, aside from its chrome-winged grille and brand name, shares little in common with any Chrysler ever produced. The Hornet is much the same for Dodge. The physical dimensions of this concept place it directly inside the subcompact ‘B’-Segment, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Toyota’s Yaris and Chevrolet’s Aveo. But Dodge, a non-native to this end of the spectrum, has gone about things differently; the Hornet isn’t a normal looking hatchback, it’s got a sort of MINI-meets-Scion xB look to it, which ought to appeal to younger audiences across the globe.

I suppose without any previous experience in developing B-segment cars (at least in modern times), Dodge had the freedom to turn the Hornet into an all-out design experiment; but these results show that Dodge is certainly onto something. Like the Akino, which shares nothing with the typical all-American Chrysler, the Hornet makes a Neon seem like a large car; yet this two-box concept is unmistakably Dodge, and unabashedly American. Perhaps it’s that bold, in-your-face look that can be traced back to the Ram full-size pickup, or the new-style grille that’s popped up on the Nitro and Caliber. From the back side there are less obvious clues to its Ram-brand heritage (in fact, take the Viper stripes away and there aren’t any), but as with most cars, the defining characteristics have always been head on.

In presenting this radical two-box shape to a relatively fresh audience, Dodge has worked to dress up the Hornet to the tastes of European youth. The principal design team, lead by Mark Moushegian, used the ever-popular Super 1600 Rally Cars (Junior WRC) and the sport compact scene for inspiration. The Hornet’s oversized flared fenders give it a chunky look, while a visible intercooler and a small, offset hood scoop show a little bit of the Hornet’s muscle. Dodge has embraced the sport tuner world, including the kind of goodies and accessories that most teens and youngsters would otherwise sink their hard-earned dollars into, including gold-coloured brake calipers, which poke out from inside cool-looking 19-inch alloy wheels. All the glass and the big, panoramic sunroof has been tinted in ‘Blue View’, like a pair of fashion sunglasses, and the whole car has received a coat of slick Beryllium Gray-coloured paint 



Dodge Pins Global Hopes on Dodge Hornet

Dodge Pins Global Hopes on Dodge Hornet

The Dodge Hornet concept debuting at the Geneva auto show has a twofold mission.

The Dodge brand wants to expand globally and needs an entry-level vehicle that is less expensive than the recently introduced 2007 Caliber hatchback. U.S. dealers want a car priced below the Caliber, too.

The result is the Hornet, a five-door concept with unusual proportions: It is 8.3 inches longer than a Mini Cooper hatchback and 2.0 inches wider than a Chrysler 300 sedan. It will debut Feb. 28 at the Geneva show. The automaker has not said whether the Hornet concept will become a production vehicle.

U.S. dealers “have been requesting a true, true entry-level vehicle” below the Caliber, said Judy Wheeler, who at the time of a Jan. 23 interview was director of Dodge car marketing and front-wheel-drive product planning. Last month Wheeler was promoted to vice president of marketing for DaimlerChrysler Canada.

The Caliber, a five-door hatchback, has a sticker price of $13,985, including shipping.

Additionally, “the B-segment is very big from an international perspective,” said Wheeler: “As we launch the Dodge brand internationally, we need to think about where is it that we want to grow.” Dodge will sell the Caliber in 98 countries.

Wheeler said the automaker “really got serious about two years ago” in determining what would be the right model for an international market.

“We met with Chrysler’s managing directors in other countries. We got information as far as ideally what vehicles they would like to look at,” said Wheeler. The Hornet is the result of those meetings, a relatively short vehicle with wide proportions.

The wide stance and tall roof creates an interior that is larger than expected in a car this size. The front seats are wide and tall. The rear seats fold forward and collapse to the floor, providing a flat cargo area. Concept features include a beverage cooler in the driver’s side rear door while the door opposite has a fold-out table.

Stylists fashioned a rally-inspired look for the exterior. The Hornet’s wide stance lends itself to adopting Dodge’s signature crossbar grille. The grille is above an exposed engine cooler that is flanked by air ducts for the front brakes. A large hood scoop funnels air into the engine.

Under the hood is a supercharged 170-hp, 16-valve 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. Chrysler estimates the 0-to-60 mph acceleration at 6.7 seconds and a top speed of 140 mph.

The Hornet name has roots going back to American Motors, and before that to Hudson Motor Car Co.



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




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