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From the Detroit Free Press:

NASCAR fans meet Dodge's Challenger

Chrysler gives car official green light

July 2, 2006



DAYTONA, Fla. -- Mike Flynn, a 40-year-old NASCAR fan from St. Petersburg, Fla., saw the car Saturday that he's been hoping would return for more than 30 years.

The Chrysler Group officially announced plans to make the Dodge Challenger, a two-door coupe based on the muscle car originally built from 1970 to 1974.

"It's killer," said Flynn, eyeing the concept version of the Challenger at a Daytona mall parking lot near Daytona International Speedway. "It's awesome."

Chrysler Group executives said the new Challenger would be available in 2008. They declined to give details on the production model but said it would be close to the concept car, which was shown Saturday in Daytona before the Pepsi 400 race. The car was first unveiled at January's North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

The 2008 Challenger, inspired by the 1970 model, will come with the signature Hemi engine. Company officials, though, would not say if it also will have a small-engine option that would lower the price and put it in more direct competition with the Ford Mustang.

The announcement for the 2008 Challenger comes a day after the Chrysler Group unveiled a new advertising campaign highlighting its ties to DaimlerChrysler AG, a German-American company that owns both the Chrysler Group and Mercedes-Benz. The ad campaign is an attempt by the Chrysler Group to separate itself from General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. by making customers aware of the German engineering in its cars and trucks.

The Challenger is a reminder that the Chrysler Group also values its American roots, said Chrysler Group CEO Tom LaSorda.

"Here's a promise you can take to the bank," LaSorda told a small crowd of NASCAR fans gathered at the mall parking lot near the race-track. "The Chrysler Group will continue to build on its rich heritage."

The Challenger will be aimed at two markets, said Eric Ridenour, the Chrysler Group's chief operating officer. It's designed for young customers looking for something exciting to drive and also older customers who remember the muscle cars of the '60s and '70s.

The Challenger should help strengthen the Dodge brand, Ridenour said. After making such cars as the cutesy Neon, Dodge has made a conscious effort in the past few years to distinguish the brand as a bold, aggressive line of vehicles.

"I think it absolutely cements it," Ridenour said of the Challenger and its edgier Dodge image. "There's no doubt this is a Dodge. From 100 miles away, it's a Dodge."

The new Challenger impressed NASCAR legend Richard Petty, who drove Dodges and Plymouths in his racing days. Petty was brought in by the Chrysler Group to help unveil the vehicle.

Petty said he liked the retro design of the Challenger. The car follows a host of vehicles, such as Mustang and Volkswagen Beetle, redesigned or relaunched in recent years with inspiration from the past. GM is expected to green-light a new version of the Camaro.

Wearing a cowboy hat, sunglasses and broad smile, Petty said he wasn't so sure about the Beetle, which he said looked like a blown-up version of the original.

"It looked like it got pregnant or something," Petty said.

The new Challenger works, he said. It sticks closer to the original, harkening back to the heyday of street machines. Petty was joined in the rollout by current NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne and a classic Challenger.

"Poor kid," Petty said of Kahne. "He wasn't even born when they had great race cars like this."

152 Posts
moparman said:
"Poor kid," Petty said of Kahne. "He wasn't even born when they had great race cars like this."


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