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Dealers: Dodge Avenger coming in Feb.

140 Views 1 Reply 2 Participants Last post by  gas28man
from a report in the Detroit News:

DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group will launch production of the Dodge Avenger in January, with the midsize sedan due to arrive in dealerships in February, several Dodge dealers said Tuesday.

The Avenger will replace the Stratus in Dodge's lineup and comes as Chrysler is moving to add more cars to its truck-heavy lineup.

Chrysler declined to confirm the production plan for the Avenger, which was introduced as a concept vehicle at the Paris auto show last month. The automaker has previously said it will build a new sedan to replace the aging Stratus and that the car would enter the market early next year.

"We haven't announced any plans to build a Dodge Avenger," Chrysler spokesman Dave Elshoff said Tuesday.

Dealers say the Avenger should revive Dodge's presence in the tough midsize sedan segment and bolster sales.

While Dodge car sales are up 11.2 percent this year on strong sales of the big Charger sedan, overall Dodge sales are down 10.6 percent, with Stratus sedan demand off 37.8 percent and coupe sales down 28.3 percent.

"It hurts us because we haven't been playing in that segment," said Ken Zangara of Zangara Dodge, based in Albuquerque, N.M., who is expecting at least one Avenger to be delivered to his showroom in February.

Michael Smith, general manager of Northwestern Dodge in Ferndale, said the Avenger will offer good fuel efficiency at a time when consumers are shifting sharply toward cars because of volatile gas prices. Industrywide, car sales are up 1.8 percent this year, while truck sales have fallen 8.2 percent.

The Avenger reflects a push by Chrysler to roll more cars into its lineup. More than 70 percent of Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep brand sales are light trucks, which include pickups, SUVs and minivans.

The automaker is also in talks with China's Chery Automobile Co. Ltd. to build a subcompact under the Dodge brand for the U.S. market.

"They are positioning us fairly quickly in the car segment," said Andy Palmen, general manager for Palmen Motors Dodge Jeep in Kenosha, Wis., who is chairman of the Dodge National Dealer Council.

Former Chrysler CEO "Dieter Zetsche told us a few years ago that there would be a need to get competitive in the car segment again in the future," Palmen said. "He was dead on."

Analysts expect the Avenger to outperform the Stratus, but sales won't outstrip those of its sibling, the 2007 Sebring, which was redesigned and is on sale.

J. D. Power analyst Matt Vicenzi said the Sebring traditionally has accounted for higher sales. "(Sebring) has a little more market penetration than the Stratus," he said.

Erich Merkle, an analyst with Grand Rapids-based IRN Inc., said the Avenger will do "modestly well. But it will be in an incredibly competitive segment so I may have a hard time saying 'to the moon!' "

The midsize sedan market is packed with strong rivals such as the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. "They're really going to have to take from somebody else," Merkle said.

J.D. Power and Associates is forecasting Avenger sales to be in the range of 65,000 to 70,000 units annually. The car will be built alongside the Sebring at Chrysler's Sterling Heights assembly plant. The factory and an adjoining stamping plant underwent a massive $500 million face-lift this year.

Dealers expect the Avenger to further boost a brand that has rolled out several new models in the past year, including the small Caliber hatchback, which replaced the Neon, the midsize Nitro SUV and the Charger sedan.

"It will completely elevate sales," said Smith of Northwestern Dodge.

Dodge also plans to build a midsize crossover for 2008.
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Just saw over at the NASCAR rumors site that the new Dodge teams in 2007 will carry the Avenger nameplate on their cars, and that a body, nose and tail have been approved for NASCAR Nextel Cup, both in conventional and Car-Of-Tomorrow configurations.
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