Originally created 09/23/05

Dodge Neon reaches end after 11 years on the road



DETROIT - After 11 years, Chrysler Group plans to end production of its spunky, low-priced Dodge Neon this week to make way for a sleek replacement.

The last Neon is scheduled to roll off the line with little fanfare today at Chrysler's plant in Belvidere, Ill., company spokesman Ed Saenz said Monday.

Chrysler, a unit of DaimlerChrysler AG, is spending $419 million to revamp the production line so it can build various models, including the Dodge Caliber, which will replace the Neon. The Caliber is expected to go on sale early next year.

The Neon was introduced in January 1994 as a 1995 model, in Dodge and Plymouth versions (the only difference was the badge). It quickly became a favorite among young buyers for its styling and quirky marketing, including ads that said simply "Hi."

With a starting price around $14,000, it competes directly with popular Asian models such as Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla.

"I think the Neon was a fantastic car for its day," said Andre Tadros, the general manager of Northwestern Dodge in Ferndale, Mich. "It was a really beautiful car when it first came out. It got great mileage. People just aren't that excited about it anymore."

Neon sales had reached 1.5 million by the time the car was redesigned in 2000, but customers began to tire of the vehicle. Sales also took a hit when the comatose Plymouth stopped producing its version of the Neon in 2001.

Neon sales fell by a third between 2000 and 2004, to 113,476.

Tom Libby, the senior director of analysis for the Power Information Network, said U.S. automakers have a tougher time making money on small vehicles than their Asian rivals because they have such high fixed labor costs.

Mr. Libby said it made sense for Chrysler to put more money into minivans and trucks, where it can make much higher margins, than to spend more on boosting the Neon.

The Caliber, which will be priced similarly to the Neon, has a more contemporary, wagon-like design. The Caliber is chiseled and aggressive, a complete departure from the Neon.