Special Coverage

Frankfurt Auto Show

FRANKFURT – Chrysler LLC steps from the shadow of former parent DaimlerChrysler AG to premier the ’09 Dodge Journey cross/utility vehicle that will serve as the cornerstone for the U.S. auto maker’s aggressive push into international markets.

The Journey, which will make its official debut in the U.S. at the Los Angeles International Auto Show in November, goes on sales stateside in first-quarter 2008. It will reach international markets midway through next year.

Chrysler says the 7-passenger CUV meets all of life’s demands by combining versatility and flexibility into a sporty, sexy package.

“It has the practicality of a minivan, the capability of an SUV and the efficiency of a passenger car,” says Mike Manley, executive vice president-international, sales marketing and business development.

But while the Journey extends Chrysler’s offerings in the red-hot domestic CUV segment to six – including the Dodge Magnum, Chrysler Pacifica and PT Cruiser, and Jeep Compass and Patriot – perhaps more importantly, it enhances the auto maker’s international lineup with a high-volume vehicle that offers broad appeal.

Indeed, Chrysler hopes the ’09 Dodge Journey will emulate the Nitro’s success in moving the auto maker closer to its goal of doubling sales in Western Europe.

Launched overseas earlier this year, the midsize Nitro SUV (Dodge’s version of the Jeep Liberty) quickly became Chrysler’s top-selling international vehicle in just a few weeks.

“Chrysler’s international sales are still a relatively small part of our overall business, but growing rapidly,” Manley tells Ward’s in an interview at the show.

The auto maker’s international sales through the first eight months saw a 19% gain on like-2006 and last month jumped 26% ahead of year-ago, Chrysler says.

Manley believes the Journey will help move Chrysler closer to doubling deliveries in Western Europe in the 2005-2009 timeframe, for a 1.4% share of the market.

“In fact, I would say we would like to more than double our international sales within five years,” Manley says, downplaying any idea of partnering with another auto maker to reach the target goal sooner.

“The good news is our international sales are profitable and that allows us to grow organically,” he says.

Manley traces his optimism to the universal appeal of the iconic Dodge brand. “A lot of (overseas customers) grew up watching the same films (we) did, with the Dodge cars in them,” he says. “Dodge resonates well as an American brand, and the cars are priced right in the market. It’s a winning formula.”

The Journey carries aggressive Dodge styling elements, such as the brand’s signature crosshairs grille. For North America, the new CUV recalls its performance heritage with a 235-hp, 3.5L V-6 mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission available on R/T and SXT models, along with all-wheel drive.

In the U.S. and Canada, the Journey will offer a choice of a 173-hp 2.4L 4-cyl.or 186-hp 2.7L V-6 that get a 4-speed automatic gearbox.

For the export markets, the Journey receives a fuel-efficient, 140-hp 2.0L turbodiesel mated to a 6-speed manual or a dual-clutch Getrag GmbH-developed 6-speed automated manual.

True to its name, the Journey offers many minivan-like innovations, such as a 10.8 in. x 8.8 in. (27.3 cm x 22.2 cm) storage bin underneath a hinged front-seat cushion. There are more in-floor bins with removable liners located behind the first row that can accommodate 12, 12-oz. beverage cans and ice.

And although the Journey leverages the same global D platform that underpins the Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger midsize sedans, the chassis is stretched 4.9 ins. (12.4 cm) to offer optional third-row seating not found on most vehicles its size.

Even with the third row, the CUV remains smaller than the Chrysler 300 sedan.

“We can take variants off the global D-segment platform that are more suitable to different tastes in different markets, and I think you’ll see that more and more as we go forward,” Manley says of Chrysler’s product development.

Manley says the fact Chrysler chose to launch the Journey here at the Frankfurt show speaks volumes about its international plans. “We’ve always been wedded to the North American market,” he says. “That’s where we’ve done our global launches.

“Now we’ve come out to the biggest motor show in the world to launch the Journey. It says this vehicle is built and designed for international markets.”