- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 27, 2005

With its sights set squarely on global markets, the Dodge division of DaimlerChrysler is preparing to introduce two new vehicles.

First on the road will be the Dodge Caliber, a compact four-door hatchback that will replace the long-running Neon in the United States.

It will come to market in the first quarter of 2006 as a 2007 model.

Due later is the Dodge Nitro, a midsize sport-utility vehicle that is based on the Jeep Liberty. It will fill a slot below the Dodge Durango.

Dodge officials emphasized that both vehicles will be built to international standards and sized to fit on Europe’s narrower roads.

Early versions of the vehicles were on hand, but not available for driving, during their introduction to automotive writers.

Judy Wheeler, Dodge marketing director, minced no words in explaining the importance of the Caliber to the division.

“Dodge has a 4.3 percent market share in cars,” she noted, “and we’re not happy with that.”

She said the Caliber is the division’s first global car and will be marketed in 101 countries. She said young college graduates will be the sales target in the United States but that she expects a “little older demographic for overseas.”

Less than an inch shorter, an inch wider and 4 inches taller than the Neon, the Caliber is designed to seat five and will be offered with a choice of three four-cylinder gasoline engines in the United States.

A joint effort of DaimlerChrysler, Hyundai and Mitsubishi, the powerplants are a 1.8-liter that generates 140 horsepower and 125 foot-pounds of torque; a 2.0-liter that develops 150 horsepower and 140 foot-pounds; and a 2.4-liter, that produces 170 horsepower and 165 foot-pounds of torque.

All will feature variable valve timing and an aluminum block and head.

The two larger engines will have balance shafts to reduce noise, vibration and harshness.

A 2.0-liter turbodiesel engine, which develops 134 horsepower and 229 foot-pounds of torque, will be available only in markets outside the United States.

The automatic shifter will be an electronically controlled, continuously variable transmission that will offer 6 percent to 8 percent better fuel economy than a conventional automatic transmission.

It will be calibrated to allow manual shifting at fixed points.

A traditional, five-speed manual transmission also will be offered.

Front-wheel drive will be standard.

All-wheel drive, which can transfer up to 60 percent of power to the rear wheels, will be an option.

Dennis Myles, senior design manager, said the Caliber, which will have standard 19-inch wheels, “combines a coupelike profile with an SUV stance and is designed to evoke strong emotions.”

The Dodge Nitro, introduced as a concept vehicle at the Chicago Auto Show this year, will be the division’s first midsize SUV.

Its foundation is a Jeep Liberty chassis stretched 4 inches, and it will be offered with the Jeep’s 3.7-liter, 210-horsepower V-6 engine, four-speed automatic transmission and full-time four-wheel drive.

Mr. Myles said the Nitro’s “brawny, rugged” looks are intended to make it stand out among the “generic, nondescript entries in the midsize SUV market.”

He said the Nitro’s individuality “will be a more pronounced issue in global markets than it is in the United States.”

It will be developed for left-and right-side steering and will feature fold-flat seating and a sturdy vinyl cargo tray that can be pulled out to ease loading of heavy or bulky items.

Because the Nitro was approved only recently for production, the on-sale date has not been set.

But officials said it should be on the road in 2006 as a 2007 model.

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