DETROIT – New Dodge cars are roaring into the Chrysler Group lineup.

They include the ’08 Viper SRT10 with an 8.4L V-10 producing 600 hp, the new Avenger midsize car that replaces the Stratus, and a motorsport Avenger that will be Dodge’s second entry in NASCAR this year.

While the Viper and NASCAR Avenger are the glory cars, it is the conventional Avenger that will be expected to contribute most to DaimlerChrysler AG’s bottom line.

The midsize sedan, described as a smaller version of the Charger, shares its architecture with the Chrysler Sebring that launched last year as a sedan and convertible.

All are assembled at the Sterling Heights, MI, assembly plant that built out the previous-generation Sebring and Stratus last May to retool for the all-new cars. Chief Operating Officer Eric Ridenour says the plant will add a third shift but does not provide a timeline.

The Sebring launched in August and Job One for the new Avenger was mid-December, Dennis Krozek, chief engineer for the JS/JC Vehicle Programs-Front Wheel Drive Product Team, tells Ward's at the 2007 North American International Auto Show here.

Like the Sebring, the Avenger comes with three engine choices: a 234-hp 3.5L V-6 mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission; flex-fuel 2.7L V-6 that can run on E85 (blend of gasoline and ethanol); and a 173-hp 2.4L 4-cyl. World Engine.

The Avenger goes on sale this quarter with a starting price of $18,895. A loaded RT trim will be about $32,000.

Ridenour says Chrysler wants a larger slice of the competitive, high-volume midsize car market, and he expects the success of the car portfolio to help shift the auto maker’s 70/30 truck/car mix.

Young mid-scale families, aged 30-45, with a medium income describe the anticipated buyer, Ridenour says.

The SXT trim level is expected to account for half the volume, Krozek says. The base SE and performance R/T with the 3.5L V-6, 6-speed, AWD and 18-in. wheels should split the remaining sales.

Chrysler does not provide volume estimates, but Krozek and Ridenour expect the new Avenger to outperform the old Stratus.

Krozek says the projection at this point is a 2:1 Avenger/Sebring mix.

The two cars are totally different in styling, and the Avenger has features the Sebring does not, such as a “Cool Zone” for beverages.

The bolder, more dynamic Avenger is expected to be the volume vehicle, Krozek says.

Further differentiating the cars, the Avenger will offer all-wheel drive on the R/T trim, while the Sebring is front-wheel drive only. The Sebring eventually will get AWD as well, Krozek says, declining to provide a timeframe.

Having an Avenger in NASCAR will enhance the car’s image and translate into sales, internal data shows, Ridenour says.

The NASCAR Avenger will be piloted by former Formula 1 driver Juan Pablo Montoya, who announced in July his intention to leave open-wheel racing and the McLaren team to join Dodge and the NASCAR circuit in 2007.

Meanwhile, the ’08 Viper’s aluminum V-10, generating 600 hp at 6,100 rpm and 560 lb.-ft. (760 Nm) of torque, can go from 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in under four seconds, outperforming cars that cost twice as much, Frank Klegon, Chrysler executive vice president-product development, says.

Variable valve timing, more displacement (from 8.3L to 8.4L), new cylinder heads, a giant hood scoop to accommodate improved air induction and 4-wheel independent suspension all combine to offer increased venom, Klegon says.

The Viper should arrive in showrooms this summer. Pricing has not been announced.

The Magnum SRT8, with a more aggressive stance and a 6.1L Hemi producing 425 hp, is a niche vehicle in the small sport-wagon segment.

"In some respects, more than (the) Charger, (the) Magnum is more a Dodge muscle car,” George Murphy, senior vice president-global marketing, says.

“It's got big shoulders in the front and back. I think that's why they buy it. It's not for everybody. But those who want a sport wagon and performance, “that's true to what (the) Dodge Magnum is.

“It's a very niche vehicle for males 45-55 who want go-fast performance,” Murphy adds, describing them as among the most loyal customers. SRT8 “is just taking it to the next degree. So it's not going to be a high-volume vehicle. They want a performance wagon that makes a statement."

Magnum sales should be about 10% of the Charger’s, he says. “So this vehicle here (Magnum SRT8) should be less than 5,000 a year – probably a couple (thousand).

“There is still, despite fuel prices and hybrids, demand for performance vehicles," Murphy insists.

The Magnum SRT8 goes on sale this fall.

apriddle@wardsauto.com