DETROIT – Production of a Dodge Challenger based on the concept car unveiled here at the North American International Auto Show, would herald a new milestone for the auto maker's LX platform.

The “muscle coupe” could either be assembled alongside its platform-mates – the Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger and Dodge Magnum – or become the first LX-based product to be built at another site alongside vehicles with disparate platforms.

“The concept was derived from the ability of that platform to deliver (multiple) vehicles, if we so choose,” says Frank Klegon, executive vice president-product development.

“That's where the opportunity comes.”

But such opportunity is only available to Chrysler because of its unfolding flexible manufacturing strategy. By the end of 2008, the auto maker wants 60% of its plants to be capable of accommodating two or more platforms, each of which could spawn multiple vehicle derivatives. (See related story: LaSorda Sets Aggressive Manufacturing Goals for Chrysler)

Dodge Challenger Concept

Chrysler's assembly site in Brampton, Ont., Canada, is the sole North American source of LX-model production. But with three shifts running six days a week, it is at full capacity, executives say.

Chrysler also contracts Magna Steyr AG & Co. KG to build the 300 and a Chrysler-badged version of the Magnum at a site in Graz, Austria.

But the mere presence of an LX product does not give any plant a leg up on prospective Challenger production, cautions Frank Ewasyshyn, executive vice president-manufacturing.

“It's not like it used to be,” Ewasyshyn says.

Inspired by the '70 pony car of the same name, the concept Challenger conveys a tough, “purposeful” stance, Chrysler says. Its 116-in (294-cm) wheelbase is 6 ins. (15 cm) longer and 2 ins. (5 cm) wider than the original.

A true 2-door hardtop with no B-pillar, its grille and taillamps stretch across the entire width of the vehicle, and its beltline features the trademark Challenger “kick-up” just forward of the rear wheels.

Offsetting these links to the '70 model are modern elements such as carbon-fiber trim around the head lamps and taillamps.

“There's nothing retro about it,” says Trevor Creed, Chrysler's senior vice president of design. “We sought to recreate it not as it was, but as enthusiasts see it through their mind's eye.”

Powered by a 425-hp 6.1L Hemi engine, Chrysler claims the Challenger is capable of 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 4.5 seconds.

Chrysler executives, Creed and Klegon included, maintain the vehicle is a concept like any other, and the auto maker has no firm plans to build it.

But as cross-town rival Ford Motor Co. prepares to launch a Shelby Cobra Mustang, ratcheting up the muscle-car revival that appears to be gaining momentum in the U.S. market, Chrysler CEO Tom LaSorda reveals which way the auto maker is leaning.

“Quite frankly, we're looking at (the Challenger) pretty seriously,” LaSorda says. “We could decide to do it anytime.”

Reports also are persistent that General Motors Corp. is prepping a new Chevrolet Camaro as the auto maker prepares to unveil a concept version.

The nameplate was phased out in 2002.

As journalists crowd around the Challenger concept, Creed again tips Chrysler's hand. While admittedly biased toward production, he is asked which is more risky: building the Challenger or not building it?

“Not building it,” Creed says.

emayne@primediabusiness.com