The Dodge brand introduced officially last year with the Caliber C-segment hatchback (although some SRT-10 Viper and Ram truck models had previously trickled into European markets), will receive a boost in sales this year with the introduction of right- and left-hand-drive versions of the Avenger D-segment saloon and the Nitro mid-sized SUV.

Dodge is the budget brand for Chrysler Group and supplements the Chrysler and Jeep models well established (with some built) here in Europe.

By adding the Dodge brand to its international portfolio, Chrysler Group aims to achieve 1.4% market share in western Europe by 2009 – more than doubling their share compared to 2005. With continued strong sales Dodge could account for approximately 30% of Chrysler Group’s overall sales outside North America by the end of 2009.

In the USA Dodge has a 6% market share making it the fifth largest brand. Last year Dodge sold more than 1.3m vehicles globally, 30,527 vehicles were sold outside North America.

The UK is currently the number one European market for Dodge sales with 2,600 registrations since last July to the end of February this year. France is second and Germany is third.

The introduction of new Chrysler and Jeep models, plus the Caliber, helped Chrysler Group in the UK increase sales by 40% in 2006 to 20,500 units. Steve Gray, the UK’s marketing director, wants a similar increase again in 2007 with demand driven by additional new models for all three brands and an increase in the number of UK dealers, from 83 to 90 by the end of this year and onwards to 100 in 2008.

In Europe 70% of Avenger sales are expected to be diesel models and, following the increase in CO2 based taxation by the British government this week, UK diesel sales of Avenger models are expected to outstrip demand for petrol models.

UK prices for the new RHD Avenger ranging from GBP14,995 to GBP17,995, deliver a D-segment car at C-segment prices according to Gray. The range goes on sale in September but the full sales offensive will not start until 2008.

The Sebring, Chrysler’s equivalent of the Avenger with the same engine options, different styling and higher specification, will go on sale in the UK next June in time for the September new registration plate month and will be pitched at competing D-segment vehicles such as the new Ford Mondeo, the Peugeot 407 and VW Passat. Prices will range between GBP17,995 and GBP18,995.

Three four-cylinder engine options are available: two- and 2.4-litre petrol units from the Daimler Chrysler, Mitsubishi Motors and Hyundai engine alliance and a two-litre VW turbodiesel. The 2.4-litre petrol model is only available with an automatic transmission, the two-litre petrol has a five speed manual transmission and the two-litre diesel a six-speed manual unit. European rivals offer diesel automatics so Chrysler is at a disadvantage here.

Fully aware their USA models have to compete with those European rivals, where safety and driveability issues rate much higher with buyers, the Avengers have anti-lock braking, electronic stability programme, brake assist, traction control, tyre pressure monitoring and seat-belt pretensioners. Passive safety includes multi-stage front air bags, front-seat-mounted side air bags, full-length side-curtain air bags, engine immobiliser and security alarm.

Although no Euro NCAP results are yet available, Dodge said that new models are designed to achieve at least a four-star rating.

Gray said: “The Avenger saloon range will be sold in the tough D-segment [where] we appreciate pricing is critical. The Avenger is as competitive for price versus specification as the Caliber was when we introduced it last July. Our volume selling Avenger two-litre CRD SXT, 140bhp diesel model, when adjusted for specification against other diesel engined competitors such as the Mazda 6, has an 8.8% advantage and 14% against the Toyota Avensis and 5.9% against the Skoda Superb.”

He added: “The Chrysler Sebring is just as competitive for price and with specification adjustments taken into account, on average represents 11.5% better value against its main rivals.

Chrysler would not confirm UK sales targets, saying only that demand is expected to be similar to the Dodge Caliber, over 2,500 units each in a full year with Sebring marginally less than Avenger.

Two engine options are available for the right hand drive Nitro, a 3.7-litre V6, 205bhp, petrol unit with a four speed automatic transmission, which will account for hardly any sales in Europe or the highly taxed UK market, and a new 2.8-litre, 177bhp, 460Nm, high torque, four-cylinder, turbodiesel unit from VM Motori. Manual and automatic transmission options are available for diesel models – hurrah! The Nitro has a part-time four wheel drive system with a single speed transfer box delivering a maximum 50/50 drive spilt between the front and rear wheels.

Gray said 95% of UK Nitro sales, which begin in July, will be diesels and the majority of these will have automatic transmission. Prices range from GBP18,990 to GBP23,490 for the expected best selling 2.8 SXT Auto. He claimed it will be great value compared with competing models such as the Hyundai Sante Fe, Kia Sorento, Chevrolet Captiva and Ssangyong Kyron.

No official sales forecasts were made but around 2,500 to 3,000 registrations in a full year is the likely target.