DETROIT – Time is of the essence for Dodge dealers who want to ensure they get a healthy share of ’09 Challenger production.

In a bid to prevent dealers from charging over sticker for the highly anticipated ’08 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Chrysler wants names to go with every order – by the end of January, says Steve Landry, executive vice president-North American sales.

“We told our dealers the allocation of ’09 Challengers will be based on how fast they move the ’08s,” Landry tells Ward’s during the North American International Auto Show. “We’re hoping that reduces (temptation to sell over sticker). I don’t want people paying $15,000 or $20,000 over sticker. Because they will.”

Dealers were besieged with inquiries last month when pricing was announced for the limited-production muscle coupe that will feature a 6.1L Hemi V-8. Chrysler declines to discuss volumes, but insider buzz suggests a total in the range of 5,500.

A carrot-and-stick approach to controlling prices is not new, says Mark Rikess of the California-based dealer consultancy, The Rikess Group. But Chrysler’s Challenger plan appears more aggressive.

“Here they have a halo car and they want to make sure that the brand is protected and the customers are not abused in any way, shape or form,” Rikess tells Ward’s. “Rather than a dealer making an extra $15,000-$20,000 in the short term, in the long term, it’s part of taking a brand that’s somewhat damaged and trying to rebuild it.”

Chrysler also is trying to prevent the cars from being auctioned off to the highest bidder.

“I have had dealers tell me they want to put those cars on eBay,” Rikess says. “What (Chrysler) would really prefer is dealers selling them to local customers. Personally, I think it’s a good policy,”

And then there’s the issue of bragging rights.

“We want to be able to say that we’re totally sold out – not just to dealers but to actual consumers,” Landry adds.

Chrysler will release specifications when the car is unveiled at next month’s Chicago auto show. Production is expected to begin in April at Chrysler’s plant in Brampton, ON, Canada, Landry says, adding the auto maker is making a strategic shift from the traditional base-model-first launch cadence.

But the decision to build the niche model first is based on practicality instead of marketing potential.

“We said, ‘Why go through all the complications of having so many different levels for small volume?’” Landry recalls. “It just made good sense for us. Less complexity for the plant.”

So the SRT8 will be an ’08 model, while the base Challenger – which bowed to raves here in 2006 – will be an ’09, he says.

The SRT8 starts at $37,995, including destination charges. Challenger pricing has not been announced, but a high-level Chrysler source says the starting sticker will be “very aggressive.”

Meanwhile, Chrysler isn’t adverse to all auctions involving the SRT8 Challenger. This week at the Barrett-Jackson Car Auction in Scottsdale, AZ, the auto maker will give the first production model to the highest bidder, with proceeds going to notMYkid – an organization dedicated to fighting suicide, drug abuse, eating disorders and depression among youths.

emayne@wardsauto.com