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DaimlerChrysler Japan Co. on Wednesday showed off the four cars that will launch the Dodge line in the Japanese market in June, part of the automaker’s campaign to turn Dodge into a global brand.

The Chrysler unit, which has been struggling with falling sales in the United States, is trying to boost its overseas sales with a bigger lineup so it can rely less on the U.S. market. It introduced the Dodge brand in Europe last year.

“The growth of international markets, including Japan, is extremely important for the accomplishment of the goal of regaining profitability for the Chrysler group,” Hans Tempel, president of DaimlerChrysler Japan, said at a media preview in Tokyo.

Tempel said the Chrysler group is scheduled to launch six new models in the Japanese market this year, including the Dodge brand, expanding the product lineup to 14 models.

DaimlerChrysler Japan said the four new models — the Dodge Caliber compact, the Dodge Nitro sport utility vehicle, the Dodge Avenger midsize sedan and the Dodge Charger sedan — are American icons and will appeal to Japanese customers who are interested in U.S. products.

The Dodge Caliber compact is targeted at people in their 20s and 30s who are purchasing an imported car for the first time, while the Dodge Nitro SUV is for people interested in outdoor activities, the company said.

The Avenger is aimed at people in their mid-30s to mid-40s and the Charger is a luxury full-size sedan targeting the high-end market.

The media release for the Dodge Caliber said it would have a reasonable price. However, the Japanese unit of the German-American automaker said it would not release the prices for the four models until June.

Tempel was showered with questions about the Chrysler unit’s future course. Only about one week ago, DaimlerChrylser AG CEO Dieter Zetsche told the annual shareholder’s meeting the company was in talks to possibly sell the Chrysler unit.

Tempel said the launch of the Dodge brand in Japan sends a strong message that DaimlerChrysler AG is trying to implement the best possible recovery plan for Chrysler.

Dodge is Chrysler’s top-selling brand — with a history of over 90 years — accounting for nearly 50 percent of total Chrysler sales.

The Chrysler unit’s car sales outside of North America for the first three months of 2007 rose 13.3 percent year-on-year to 52,570 vehicles, thanks mainly to the launch of the Dodge brand in Europe, according to DaimlerChrysler Japan.

Although the company does not disclose specific sales targets for its models, it hopes to see a substantial increase in sales here with the Dodge debut this year. The Chrysler unit sold about 6,000 vehicles in Japan in 2006.

Used-car sales tank

Kyodo News

Used motor vehicle sales fell 7.5 percent in fiscal 2006 to a 17-year low of 4.88 million units, excluding minivehicles, an industry body said Wednesday.

The first fall in two years came as fuel-efficient minivehicles grew more popular thanks to high gasoline prices and as used compacts in good shape remained in short supply, the Japan Automobile Dealers Association said.

Of used-vehicle sales in the year to last month, cars with engine displacements of more than 2,000cc decreased 5.1 percent to 1.92 million units, while those with engines from 660cc to 2,000cc fell 9.7 percent to 2.23 million. Sales of used trucks declined 5.6 percent to 586,566 units and buses 2.0 percent to 19,727.

For March alone, used-vehicle sales dropped 12.6 percent from a year earlier to 616,070 units, for the 12th consecutive year-on-year fall.

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