Are you ready for Dodge? That was the question posed this week to Journalists attending the media launch of the American brand in Europe. Sales of the all new Dodge Caliber begin to major European left hand drive markets before the end of June and they will start in the right hand drive UK market from July this year.
Each of the 88 UK Chrysler Group UK dealerships that currently sell and service Chrysler and Jeep products are getting an additional brand name to hang over their doors - Dodge. In the Chrysler Group line up, Dodge is the affordable; value for money and potentially higher volume brand once their range is completed.
Like its stablemates the Dodge brand and the Caliber will be marketed on its all-American value for money brand appeal.
Strictly speaking the Dodge brand is already in the UK but in very limited numbers represented by the huge Dodge RAM pick-up and the STR10 (Viper as it is unofficially known). But Caliber is the vehicle that officially launches another US brand to the UK. So this week’s press event was not just about launching the Caliber but it was just as much about launching the brand.
The Caliber is a crossover vehicle, somewhere between a C-segment, or medium sized five-door hatchback and a two wheel drive SUV. It looks like a compact 4x4 bit it isn’t. The C-segment is a very tough price sensitive market place accounting for one in three new cars sold in the UK. It is the fighting ground for the likes of the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra, VW Golf, Peugeot 307 and Citroen C4 plus a host of Japanese and Korean offerings.
Suffice to say that the International Media launch event was held in the clubbing capital of Europe, Ibiza, and in particular in one of the world famous 'Pacha' nightclubs. You get the picture on where Dodge is aiming its brand profile.
Dodge like to see their brand image and the Caliber as funky, raunchy, boldly irreverent and in your face. The marketing programme for Dodge and Caliber includes a major advertising campaign and UK dealer - How Dodge Are You - themed regional road shows. The Internet is already carrying Dodge websites, such as www.discoverdodge.com . These carry ‘interesting’ advertising themes. Mooning dogs is just one advert heading our way, not to mention body stencils and tattoos of the Dodge horned ram logo adorning the faces and bodies of ‘young thrusters’.
Steve Gray, Marketing Director for Chrysler Group in the UK said this week, "There is a significant minority group of customers who want to buy something different when it comes to a family car. They want to make a statement with their purchase. They are switched on by affordability and the Caliber offers great value for money, a high level of specification with distinctive non ‘run of the mill’ good looks and it is a versatile family vehicle."
"Initially our sales effort will be to reach new retail customers and fleet and business sales will follow after that. We expect to see a 50/50 sales split between petrol and diesel models with the SXT trim and equipment level versions taking around 70 per cent of sales."
There are also S and SE versions. Prices range from £11,495 to £15, 430.
Diesel versions carry a £1,500 price premium over petrol models but diesel models also include an ESP electronic stability programme. All models have, anti theft protection, electric windows, 60/40 split folding rear seats and a fold down front passenger seat back as standard. Most versions even have a ‘chill zone’, a cooled drinks tray within the glove box for up to four 500ml bottles or cans.
Currently two four-cylinder petrol engines are on offered, a 1.8-litre, 148bhp unit and 2.0-litre 154bhp engine, both shared with Mitsubishi and Hyundai. A 2.0-litre, 138bhp, four-cylinder turbodiesel engine is available and this unit is sourced from Volkswagen. A 2.4-litre, petrol turbocharged 304bhp engine will be added to the range with the Caliber SRT-4 in 2007.
The 1.8-litre petrol and 2.0-litre diesel models have a 6-speed manual transmission. The 2.0-litre petrol versions are only available with a continuously variable auto transmission, but at no extra cost for the CVT.
Steve Gray said, "Advertising and marketing straplines such as, Caliber - It’s Anything But Cute, and Grab Life by the Horns, referring to the Ram logo, will attract customers to looking at the Caliber as an alternative vehicle to what’s on the market today. Once they look and then starting seeing the great value for money and the affordability the Caliber line up offers, we have established the reason for them to buy. If you compare it with other C-segment five door hatchback competitors with like-for-like specification, the least expensive Caliber model is over 10 per cent cheaper than the equivalent Golf, 7 per cent less than the Peugeot 307 and about the same price as a Mazda3. If you look at the Caliber 2.0-litre petrol with its standard CVT transmission the difference is even greater, 25 per cent less than the Golf, 15 per cent less than the 307 and the Mazda3. Petrol or diesel it is a similar story when it comes to comparisons about price and specification."
Dodge says research in Europe shows the target group for their brand and new Caliber will be male buyers with an average age of 39 and with an average salary of £25,000. They tend not to have strong automotive brand loyalties and are inclined to buy imported vehicles. They are however already attracted to American brands such as Coca Cola, Levi, Disney and Harley Davidson.
Dodge is the fifth largest automotive brand in the US outselling Chrysler and Jeep put together. Dodge is the eighth largest car producer in the world and it is expanding. It sold more than 1.4 million vehicles worldwide in 2005. Production of the Dodge Caliber started earlier this year and it will eventually be on sale in nearly 100 countries outside the US. By 2009 Chrysler Group expects to have achieved a 1.4 per cent share of the European market driven by the launch of the Dodge brand, Caliber and other future models. The Caliber will be followed by the large 4x4 Dodge Nitro in 2007 and a D segment car.Published 12 May 2006