DaimlerChrysler's Dodge brand has officially announced its expansion into Europe and said its presence in Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and Africa will be extended.

Beginning in 2006, vehicles for markets outside of North America will be mainly C and D segment vehicles, both left and right hand drive, with powerful yet fuel-efficient petrol engines and state-of-the-art diesel engines, Dodge said.

A newspaper report said Dodge will show a Neon-sized five-door hatchback 'concept' (it looks production-ready and is an ideal design for Europe) called the Caliber at next month's Geneva motor show.

Chrysler Group has previously said that, between 2003 and 2007, with the expansion of the Dodge brand, the company will more than double the number of its models available outside of North America. The number of right-hand drive and diesel-equipped models will also more than double during this same time period.

The comments came at the Chicago auto show as the company showed off a new mid-size five-seat SUV concept called the Dodge Nitro. It would be the first mid-size SUV for the brand, whose current lineup now consists of passenger cars, minivans, trucks and a full-size SUV.

The Nitro has a 3.7-litre SOHC V6 engine, familiar to European Jeep Cherokee [Liberty] owners, a four-speed automatic transmission and independent SLA front and five-link rear suspension. It also has full-time four-wheel drive and weighs in at 4,115 pounds (1867 kg).

Dodge sold more than 1.4 million vehicles worldwide in 2004. With a 6.9% market share, it is the fifth largest nameplate in the United States and will arrive in European volume segments in 2006.

Consumer research among several thousand participants in Germany, France, Italy and the UK identified a segment of potential buyers that align themselves with the core values of Dodge. Dieter Zetsche, Chrysler Group president and CEO, said that research also showed that there is not a single brand that leads this segment, creating opportunity for the Dodge brand to grow the Chrysler Group business internationally, while maintaining its unique brand identity.

The company plans to sell Dodge cars alongside Chrysler and Jeep products in most of the existing Chrysler Group dealer outlets. A new corporate identity for international Chrysler and Jeep dealers has been implemented with the arrival of Dodge in mind.

Separately, the Detroit News said Chrysler, at Geneva, would give its clearest hint yet about the look of a new Dodge small car expected to hit the US market next year and lead the brand's march into Europe.

Chrysler will take the wraps off the Caliber 'concept', a five-door hatchback designed for buyers who want the ride of a small car and the versatility and storage of a wagon, the paper added.

The Detroit News said the Caliber is expected to look very similar to the Dodge Neon compact car replacement, due in 2006. The next Neon, which will likely get a new name, will give the truck-heavy Dodge brand an entry in the growing crossover utility vehicle category and be at the centre of a European roll-out for Dodge, the report said.

The newspaper said the Caliber is taller than the current Neon and has large headlights, a bulging hood, wide fenders and 19-inch wheels that give it a more substantial look.

"(The Caliber) suggests the global potential of the brand as it prepares to expand into the key volume markets outside the US," the paper quoted Zetsche as saying.

Dodge Caliber

 

Dodge Nitro