DETROIT – Meet Chrome-zilla.

That is Chrysler Group's internal pet name for the '07 Aspen, Chrysler brand's first SUV due in showrooms this fall.

A mid-year production start is scheduled for the 8-passenger fullsize SUV, which will share a platform with the Dodge Durango.

Chrysler executives are not worried by the softening SUV market, nor the prospect that Aspen might cannibalize Durango sales.

Fullsize SUVs have provided auto makers – particularly those based in Detroit – with precedent-setting profit margins. And they still represent 50% of the total SUV market, says Frank Klegon, executive vice president-product development.

'07 Chrysler Aspen

“We see (fullsize SUVs) as an opportunity,” Klegon tells journalists at the North American International Auto Show here.

As for Durango, Joe Eberhardt, sales and marketing chief, suggests there is room for both vehicles in the shrinking U.S. market.

“They (serve) two completely different customers,” Eberhadt tells Ward's.

The Aspen, which will roll off the same Newark, NJ, assembly line as the Durango, sports a 5.7L Hemi V-8 that makes 335 hp and offers a best-in-class tow rating of 8,950 lbs. (4,059 kg.)

The Hemi features Chrysler's fuel-saving multi-displacement technology, which is available across the auto maker's SUV lineup, along with electronic stability control.

Like the Durango, however, the Aspen offers anti-rollover technology. Known as Electronic Roll Mitigation, the Chrysler system is supplied by Robert Bosch GmbH.

Despite such amenities as a power rear liftgate; remote starter; rear-seat DVD; navigation and SIRIUS satellite radio; the Aspen's most striking feature, arguably, is its elegant styling.

Framed by jewel-like headlamps, the Aspen's chromed grille shows a clear resemblance to the Chrysler face defined by the 300 sedan and the Chronos concept car that came before.

“With a unique and distinctive design, the all-new '07 Chrysler Aspen brings a new look to the SUV segment,” says Trevor Creed, senior vice president-design.

“Encompassing design cues from (the) Chrysler 300 and Crossfire – including the signature chromed grille and sculpted hood, (the) Chrysler Aspen is an elegant, yet striking premium SUV that is unmistakably Chrysler.”

Meanwhile, at the other end the scale, Chrysler CEO Tom LaSorda throws water on the prospect of a near-term B-car rollout in the U.S. LaSorda questions the margin potential of such a vehicle.

“The top of my list is profitable growth,” he says. Creed concurs.

“There's not a lot of enthusiasm for small cars at the moment,” he says, adding there is “a great deal of interest” in C-segment vehicles, such as the Dodge Caliber.

“I think our timing on that is probably really fortuitous.” Creed says.

The auto maker earlier unveiled the Caliber here at the auto show. (See related story: Chrysler Says Caliber Breaks New Ground in Hatchbacks)

emayne@primediabusiness.com