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Is Dodge Headed the Way of Pontiac and Mercury?

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On: Thu, Jun 20, 2013 at 1:50PM | By: Chris Weiss

Is Dodge Headed the Way of Pontiac and Mercury?

The American auto market was very different 15 years ago from what it is today. Not only were car buyers obsessed with big, refrigerator-sized SUVs, thanks to low gas prices and sensibilities that suggested that minivans and station wagons were the death of their self esteem, but there were a lot more American brands to choose from. Brands like Oldsmobile, Saturn, Mercury, and Pontiac were still alive and well (well, not necessarily well, but alive). GM and Ford streamlined their portfolios in the first decade of 2000s, eliminating all of those brands over time. Chrysler also cut its portfolio during that time, sending Plymouth to the junkyard next to Eagle. According to a new report, Dodge may be the next American brand on the chopping block.

Chrysler has long been plagued by redundant models, something that Fiat has been trying to fix since coming into the fold. For the most part, this has created an intuitive division of brands. Jeep has continued to be the SUV and off-road brand it's always been; Chrysler has tried to better define itself as the luxury flagship of the group; Ram was created as the group truck brand; and SRT has served as a halo performance brand, incorporating the Viper.

Unfortunately, Dodge became the awkward stepchild in the process. It lost its Viper halo; it lost its truck line; and, while every other brand gained an identity, Dodge became a mish mosh of leftovers—the Durango and Journey SUVs, Grand Caravan, Challenger and Charger muscle cars, and a couple of sedans. The Dodge Dart attempted to add a little youth and excitement to the brand, but sales have been underwhelming. It's not too hard to see how Chrysler's Italian overlords might be starting to look at Dodge as the next Plymouth or Pontiac.

WardsAuto reports that several Dodge models will be cut completely or migrated over to Chrysler, including the discontinuation of the Avenger next year, leading it to question whether Dodge will exist very long. Dodge's already thin, mismatched line will get even thinner, making its necessity within Chrysler dwindle even further. Based on Fiat/Chrysler's production plans for the next few years, Wards expects a decision to be clear by 2016.

It really isn't too hard to see Dodge being eliminated. According to reports from a year ago, the Durango is slated to join the Avenger in "nameplates of cars past," with a larger Jeep Wagoneer expected to replace it. The Challenger (or Barracuda rumored to be its successor) and Charger could be moved to SRT, strengthening its position as the sports performance brand. That leaves the underperforming Dart, the Grand Caravan, and the Journey—not an awfully compelling lineup. The Grand Caravan is the only model there that serves a real niche, but we can't imagine Dodge sticking around just for a minivan. And Chrysler could always bring it back as the recently discontinued Town & Country. Fiat could also step in to take a few former Dodges, particularly ones that are based on its own platforms—like the Dart and the next Journey. With a few swift checker jumps, Dodge is completely off the board.

Still, Dodge is one of Chrysler's three really established, recognizable brands. It's hard to believe they'd cut it only to add new brands (Ram and SRT vehicles) and import brands with little history or following in the US (Fiat). And if they want to truly make Chrysler a luxury brand, they'll need another place for entry level cars, minivans, etc. We're not so confident that it's as easy as it looks on paper.


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