Dodge to enter small vehicle market with the Hornet

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

Dodge will return to the small vehicle market this summer with the Hornet, the brand's CEO confirmed on Tuesday.

The vehicle will have a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle variant, which sets a launch for 2023, when Dodge has said it will offer its first PHEV. Dodge CEO Tim Kuniskis says the performance brand of Stellantis NV is hoping to reveal the vehicle in August as a part of its annual "speed week" between Roadkill Nights and the Woodward Dream Cruise, though that ultimately will depend on the supply chain that's been challenged by multiple disruptions.

"This gray hair that I'm getting? It's not COVID, it's not lockdowns, it's supply chain, man," Kuniskis said during a virtual news conference introducing the brand's chief donut maker. "But every single thing we're doing is like in Jell-O right now, because it's so hard to plan anything."

According to Auto Forecast Solutions, the Dodge Hornet is set to be assembled at a Stellantis factory in Italy alongside the Alfa Romeo Tonale, a subcompact SUV that the automaker revealed in February.

He declined to confirm where the vehicle will be built, but it's set to be assembled alongside the Alfa Romeo Tonale at Stellantis' plant in Pomigliano, Italy, according to AutoForecast Solutions LLC. In February, Alfa revealed the four-door Tonale, its first subcompact SUV that launches in June with deliveries to the United States expected to arrive before the end of the year. It comes standard with a gas-powered 2.0-liter turbo-4 engine, but also is available as a plug-in hybrid with 272 horsepower from twin electric motors mated to a 1.3-liter turbocharged engine.

Previously, the Hornet was a concept, two-door small SUV that Dodge revealed in 2006 at the Geneva Motor Show. The brand at the time said it combined American attitude with European function. Dodge trademarked the name for passenger vehicles in March 2020.

Dodge in 2006 revealed a Hornet concept small SUV at the Geneva Motor Show that it said combined American attitude with European function.

"The Dodge brand needs something," said Sam Fiorani, vice president of global forecasting for AutoForecast Solutions. "They can’t survive the brand on muscle cars. Making a fun-to-drive compact crossover fits into the Dodge brand."

And although the market has seen a boom in crossover nameplates, there may be an opportunity for Dodge carve out a niche for itself with a more performance-focused but economical vehicle.

"You kind of have to move up a price class to get to the real fun-to-drive ones," Fiorani said. "If it's under $30,000, it's usually packaged and sold as transportation, lifestyle vehicles with price being key and fun-to-drive being secondary. It could potentially break open a market for Dodge, especially if they can keep the price low enough."

Dodge CEO Tim Kuniskis introduces the performance brand's two-year "Never Lift" plan from the Conner Center in Detroit.

Although the Hornet is a PHEV, Dodge does have plans for an all-electric muscle car to launch in 2024. The brand had said it plans to show a concept version in the first quarter, but Kuniskis said he is waiting on an important piece that is "outside of my control, it's outside our industry, quite frankly" to show the vehicle. He didn't go into specifics, but said he hope the concept will be shown before the Hornet's planned reveal in August.

"I'm pushing to get it in the public view and show you what we're doing and how we're doing it different as fast as I can," Kuniskis said. "Because it drives me crazy that other people are way out in front of their headlights, and I'm not."

Direct Connection will launch with a full line of factory-tuned parts, including exclusive new Direct Connection "Tuner" and "Stage" kits that will allow Dodge vehicle owners to install factory-tuned, 50-state-legal stage kit calibrations.

Also delayed because of supply-chain woes are stage kits from the Direct Connection performance parts program Dodge recently relaunched to sell certified, factory warranty-backed modifications to boost power on Dodge vehicles when installed by a dealership the brand has named one of its Power Brokers. Kuniskis expects to have the kits available in next couple of weeks. They are waiting on semiconductors for their controllers because of a global shortage of the microchips.

Dodge also is waiting on approval from the California Air Resources Board for the kits. The brand has advertised that the kits provide factory-tuned calibrations that meet emissions limits in all 50 states.

"We think everything's going to be OK," Kuniskis said. "We've gone through all the issues with them. They've been, quite honestly, they've been fantastic to work with."

Dodge is certifying its most knowledgeable dealership as "Power Brokers" with access to Direct Connection performance parts.

He also emphasized the importance of leveraging the $23 billion after-market modifications sector, especially in light of an electrified future in which startups are opting for direct sales, while legacy automakers are altering their business model with dealers.

"There's a change going on in the industry that's going to affect our retail partners, our dealers, our partners in this business, and when we go to full electrification across the industry, they're going to lose a revenue stream that they have today," Kuniskis said. "They're going to see a decrease in revenue and parts and service and maintenance. That's just a fact.

"Getting heavily involved in the aftermarket business and parts business can help us close that gap. It can help bring our dealer partners some more revenue, because Direct Connection stuff is not just going to be for the old cars," he said. "We are planning right now to have that stuff for the next-generation muscle cars. We're planning in advance to give them that revenue stream and funnel it through our Power Broker dealers."

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble