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Dodge crossover set for unveiling
Journey to appear at Frankfurt show
August 26, 2007

BY TIM HIGGINS

FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

Chrysler LLC plans to unveil its first Dodge crossover at the Frankfurt, Germany, auto show early next month.

The Dodge Journey is a crossover built on the same body frame as the Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger and uses many of the interior tricks learned for the minivan.

Analysts say Chrysler needs a full lineup of so-called crossovers -- car-based SUVs and wagons -- to compete. The fast-growing crossover segment outsold traditional truck-based SUVs last year for the first time in the United States, according to sales data published by WardsAuto.com.

The Journey, which goes on sale early next year, will come standard with seating for five and has an optional third row for a total of up to seven seats.

The new vehicle is "for the person who is in the life stage in-between the Caliber, where they are still trying to attract members of the opposite sex, and the minivan, where they've gone way beyond the logical consequences of getting the opposite sex," said Rick Kukucka, Chrysler director of front-wheel drive product planning and marketing.

"This is for the person who's been married for a few years and has already flipped psychologically, that 'yes, I am probably going to be having kids within the life cycle of my ownership of this vehicle' or they have one or two kids already."

Several analysts who saw the vehicle early questioned the exterior but praised the interior features, such as storage bins built into the second-row floor and easily folding second-row seats. There's even a hidden storage bin inside the front passenger seat.

"I think Chrysler did an outstanding job, quite honestly, in maximizing the interior space of that vehicle," said analyst Erich Merkle of IRN Inc.

But Merkle said the vehicle is a little on the small size, and should be more along the size of a GMC Acadia or Buick Enclave to better compete.

"It's probably more filler than anything else," Merkle said. "Certainly they need crossover SUVs. That's kind of a hole in the Dodge product portfolio. But I think it needs to be a little bit more than that."

Merkle and other analysts have forecast that Chrysler is planning to build the new Dodge Durango -- as a car-based rather than truck-based vehicle -- at the Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit in the next few years.

"Calling it a crossover is a bit of a stretch. It's a tall wagon or a small minivan," Dan Pund, Detroit editor of Edmunds Inside Line, said of the Journey. "I think it's not a coincidence that it will be unveiled at the Frankfurt show. Dodge sees it as a real potential booster in Europe. I don't think it's going to do huge volumes here."

European customers might like the size -- the wheelbase is about 5 inches longer than a Dodge Avenger, but the overall length is only about 2 inches longer -- as well as the optional 2.0-liter turbo diesel engine.

"It's a compact package, that's why we call it a right-sized SUV for the current climate," said Larry Lyons, Chrysler vice president for the front-wheel drive product team.

In the United States and Canada, the vehicle will have three engine options:

• A 2.4-liter, four-cylinder that the company says will get 19 miles per gallon in the city and 25 m.p.g. on the highway.

• A 2.7 liter V6 engine that is expected to get 17 m.p.g. in the city and 23 m.p.g. on the highway.

• A 3.5-liter V6 engine that is expected to get 16 m.p.g. in the city and 23 m.p.g. on the highway. Vehicles with this engine can come with all-wheel drive.

The Journey takes advantage of the same platform used in the new Sebring.

"Clearly they're getting their money's worth out of the D-segment platform," Pund said. "Even if it doesn't sell a huge number of vehicles and become the next minivan of the '80s, it's still a worthwhile proposition."

LINK: http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070826/BUSINESS01/708260616/1014
 
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