More stories related to 2005 NAIAS When is a Charger not really a Charger?

After a 30-plus year hiatus, Chrysler Group’s Dodge brand is resurrecting its Charger nameplate and creating some controversy over the results.

At a sneak media preview, Chrysler Chief Designer Trevor Creed says the auto maker’s California-based designers originally came up with a 2-door coupe, fastback model to add to the Dodge lineup, but that later was deemed impractical.

The designers were instructed to go back and develop a sedan instead, based on the LX rear-wheel-drive platform, because management wanted Dodge to have more than just the Magnum wagon in its new passenger-car offering.

’06 Dodge Charger

After transferring some of the design cues from the original coupe to the sedan, the team arrived at the current ’06 Charger design, which aficionados claim isn’t a Charger.

Creed says the vehicle didn’t have a name at first and was referred to as the “Carlsbad theme.” The team then began running through various names used by Dodge in the past.

“We chose the name Charger,” he says. “We researched the name, and it received very good ratings. It came out the best, and we decided to go with the name.”

Creed balks at the suggestion that had the design team known from the get-go the vehicle would carry the Charger moniker, the styling might have been more retrospective.

“We elected deliberately not to do a reproduction of the ’69 Charger,” he says. He told the designers, “I want a car worthy of the Charger name, but I don’t want you to take anything off the shelf from any of the ’65 to ’69, or ’70 or ’71 Chargers.

“I want a car worthy of the name, the muscle aggressiveness, the coupe-like look, sunken backlight, all that stuff, and that’s what this is,” he says of the ’06 offering unveiled today at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

While many auto makers have made deliberate efforts to resurrect historic brand names with retro design themes and advertising messages, Creed says he asked Chrysler management to diverge from that path. “I have strongly advised that we don’t do that,” he says.

While the argument likely will continue over whether the ’06 Charger is truly a Charger, there is no mistaking the car for its platform siblings: the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Magnum.

The Charger receives sheetmetal unique from Chrysler’s rear-wheel-drive lineup. Creed says the only exterior part shared is the 300’s windshield.

“It (the Charger) has a slightly lower beltline than those other vehicles,” he adds. “It has a 1-in. (2.5-cm) lower rear roof, and the rear seat is lowered by 1 in.”

The front fascia features a bold crosshair grille design, which is tilted outward at the top as if leaning into the wind. The grille is flanked by angled, dual headlamps.

Designers provided the Charger with strong shoulders and a fastback roof that flows into the rear fascia, taking its cue from Dodge racecars.

Inside, the Charger shares most of its cockpit with the Magnum, while the seats are borrowed from the 300. Only the rear-door trim panels and seats are unique to the Charger.

Power is provided by either the standard 250-hp 3.5L high-output V-6 or the optional 340-hp 5.7L Hemi V-8 engine. The Hemi includes Chrysler’s multiple displacement cylinder deactivation system. The transmission is limited to a 5-speed automatic with AutoStick.

Creed declines to confirm whether the ’06 Charger will be available with an all-wheel-drive option, although the feature is available on the 300 and Magnum.

He emphatically denies rumors Chrysler may build a coupe version of the Charger or any of its platform mates.

“I can categorically state that we are not looking at a 2-door coupe version of this vehicle,” he says. “We have 2-door coupes in our lineups now, and they are just dead in the marketplace.” (See related story: Chrysler Bids Farewell to Coupes)

But that doesn’t mean Charger won’t end up in some interesting places, such as the local police or sheriff’s department. Creed says there are some Chargers decked out in police garb driving around Chrysler’s testing facilities, but he does not say when a police package would be announced.

Chrysler is mum on pricing for the Charger, saying it will be positioned between the 300 and Magnum. The sedan will be produced at Chrysler’s Brampton, Ont., Canada, assembly plant in the first quarter, with sales beginning in early summer.

kekelly@primediabusiness.com