Will Dodge Deliver the Demon?

March 6, 2007


It’s just a concept car. Just keep saying that – for now, anyway, but Chrysler officials couldn’t disguise their interest in bringing the distinctive little Dodge Demon roadster into showrooms. And with the U.S. automaker desperate to enhance its global appeal, a strong reception at the Geneva show could help make a profitable business case.

The small and ostensibly nimble roadster is vaguely reminiscent of the less-than-successful Chrysler Crossfire, though its proportions are more in line with classic British entries, such as the old Triumph Spitfire or MG. Front to back, the 2600-pound concept two-seater measures just 156.5 inches, with a 95.6-inch wheelbase. That’s in line with the Mazda Miata, the long-running benchmark of the affordable roadster segment. But visually, the Demon is significantly more distinctive.


Influenced by the bigger and radically more powerful Dodge Viper, the downsized Demon features a huge Dodge crosshair grille bookmarked by dual projector headlamps in black bezels. The hood opens, like that on the Viper, in clamshell style. The rear fenders flare out around functional cooling ducts. The overall look is “a combination of curves and creases,” suggested Chrysler’s design director, Ralph Gilles. Large, twin exhausts, 19-inch wheels, and a striking, amber pearl paint job complete the bold package.


The goal was to “do more with less,” the design chief added, as the Demon debuted in Geneva with a loud bang and a puff of smoke. Like GM’s two-seat twins, the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky, Chrysler designers were under orders to hold to tight cost targets, even while delivering 172-hp and 165 lb-ft of torque out of its four-cylinder engine. That powerplant is mated to a six-speed manual transmission.


Chrysler has made a point of introducing new concepts and production vehicles at key European auto shows, in recent years, part of its effort to cultivate sales outside North America. The effort is paying off, with non-U.S. sales up 15 percent last year and generating much-needed profits, noted Thomas Hausch, executive vice president of international sales. Even as sales and market share tumble in the home market, Chrysler’s international operations have posted 21 consecutive months of year-over-year sales gains.


To keep the momentum going, the automaker hopes to add some smaller, more fuel-efficient models to its current mix of big sedans, SUVs and minivans, which target, at best, a niche market outside North America. The Dodge Hornet concept, previewed a year ago, should hit the road soon, as the result of a newly-approved joint venture between Chrysler’s parent, DaimlerChrysler AG, and the Chinese automaker, Chery.


The Demon would not be able to share the same “architecture,” or underlying platform as Hornet, however. It is instead based off various existing Chrysler components, Gilles explained to TheCarConnection.com, so it will require some creative work to make a convincing business case – especially at a time when Chrysler is slashing jobs and may be sold off by DC. But given initial, strong feedback, Gilles and other executives are hoping that they can make a successful pitch to put the roadster into production, perhaps before the end of the decade. 


It appears they are gaining some fans. The Demon, “is a very good-looking vehicle, which fits European requirements very well,” said DaimlerChrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche. While he didn’t say whether management would give the Demon the go-ahead, the executive stressed that products like the roadster and the Hornet are critical “in pursuing international markets.”


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