AUSTRALIA’S love affair with the Ford Mustang could open the door to a right-hand-drive version of the next-generation Dodge Charger and Challenger, the company behind the 1970s-era of the same name says.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Australia has revealed it has closely monitored the Mustang’s popularity since the US muscle car’s launch here last year.
Ford’s two-door coupe and convertible has risen to become Australia’s best-selling sports car priced less than $80,000, and is the brand’s third best-selling model this year behind the Ranger ute and the now extinct Ford Territory SUV.
If Australia’s bid to bring the 2020 Charger here works, it could also pave the way for the closely related Dodge Challenger coupe to join it in showrooms.
Speaking to Australian journalists at the LA Auto Show this week, recently appointed FCA Australia chief executive Steve Zanlunghi said he believed the demise of the locally made Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore could leave cheap performance car holes in the Australian market.
“We’ve obviously had a discussion on it, and we’re looking at the business case, because we know what Mustang does in Australia,” he revealed.
“We are constantly searching for new opportunities in the marketplace, and that’s one of them, especially now that we’ve lost the Falcon and going to lose the (Zeta-based) Commodore.
“So if we can make a business case out of it, then I think you’ll see those vehicles in Australia.”
Adding weight to Zanlunghi’s suggestions, FCA Group Asia Pacific chief operating officer Michael Manley said the left-hand-drive stumbling block that had kept Dodge-badged muscle cars out of Australia would most likely not apply for their eventual replacements.
“If the decision (for right-hand-drive engineering and production) was made, it would be made for the next-generation platform on the vehicle,” Manley said.
“And that actually is going to help Steve’s case, because as you move towards the next-generation platform, they tend to be more global, and therefore they tend to be much more easy to package.”
While neither FCA spokesman would be drawn into revealing what platform would underpin the 2020 Charger/Challenger, Manley admitted that the Giorgio rear/all-wheel-drive architecture created for the Alfa Romeo Giulia (sedan) and Stelvio (SUV) could be leveraged by the group’s other brands without diluting the essence of the Italian marque.
It has been widely rumoured that a more cost-effective variation of Giorgio might find its way beneath the American dynamic duo.
“All the RHD components… could be shared across other cars – which makes it a lot easier, because then you’re adding up more than one volume per brand,” he said.
“(Giorgio) is a great example of a global platform… because of the strength of that platform. When I think about next-gen for any of our vehicles, elements of that platform are going to find their way into other vehicles… (but) there are not the things that create that unique driving experience for that Alfa.”
Finally, FCA executives readily admitted that the success of the current Dodge Challenger and Charger in North America bodes well for their replacements. Launched in the latter half of the 2000s and based on a modified LX rear-drive platform shared with the Chrysler 300, both have outlived their original lifespan forecasts and amortised development costs.
However, before you get too excited, Manley warned that if the right-hook program was green-lit, it would be a while before the Dodge badge made its way back into Australia.
“Realistically, if that was to happen, you’re probably still three years out,” he said.
The last time the Charger name was used in Australia was for a two-door version of the 1970s-era CL Valiant.
FCA Australia has retired the Dodge badge after re-introducing the brand in 2006 while it was still part of German carmaker Daimler.
The brand struggled from the outset, with a lacklustre line-up of products that included the Caliber small hatch, the Avenger mid-size sedan and convertible, the Nitro small SUV and its best-seller, the Journey people mover.