For decades, Dodge was a brand in search of a purpose — sort of like Chrysler is now. The surface-level aggression and performance motif rang somewhat hollow for a lineup that included offerings like the Journey, Grand Caravan and Dart. But then Dodge fully committed to the muscle thing and found its calling. The Hornet will be its first test to see if that newfound goodwill can extend to a product that isn’t a Charger or Challenger.
So far, it seems like things are going well, at least if you believe brand CEO Tim Kuniskis. During the final night of Dodge’s Speed Week festivities on Wednesday — the same night it launched the Charger Daytona EV concept — Kuniskis shared that the Hornet GT had already received 14,000 preorders since 8 a.m. that morning, well within the first 24 hours of its official existence. In the executive’s words, from the livestream:
After years of UVs [utility vehicles] being for kayakers and people who make their own trail mix, today that kind of practicality practically carries our entire industry. Now, it was a slow transition, because manufacturers’ development cycles — they’re extremely expensive, and they can’t change as fast as consumer tastes. But when it flipped, it flipped fast. And you saw it yesterday. It took Dodge years to enter the massive compact UV segment, and the response was exactly what we expected. Some of you were pissed. Some of you think we sold out. Well, I guess it depends on your definition of sold out because, since 8 a.m. this morning, we received 14,000 orders.
Dodge doesn’t appear to have a live website where you can easily preorder a Hornet, but the press release yesterday stated that the books would open on August 17. The base GT is the only flavor that can be reserved for now, as it will hit dealers in late 2022; the plug-in hybrid R/T will follow spring of next year.
The strong response isn’t terribly surprising, given the anecdotal reception to the launch. Even fast crossovers don’t tend to muster a great deal of excitement from enthusiasts, and yet those of you in the comments seemed to be pretty pleased with the package Dodge was pitching on Tuesday night. Some noted that a sub-$30K base price for a 265-horsepower, all-wheel drive compact SUV seemed like a good value in this market.
The thing is, the Dart was arguably a good value too for its time — from an equipment and power standpoint, anyway — and that didn’t help it stand out from the the likes of the Focus, Civic and Elantra. That’s not to say a miserably mismanaged launch, in which the first sedans that reached showrooms were fitted exclusively with manual transmissions, didn’t play a part. Former CEO Sergio Marchionne said then that he “decided I was going to put a European transmission into the car because I was going to try to teach Americans how to get [better] fuel mileage.” With that kind of astute market strategy, is it any wonder the Dart’s entire lifespan fit within Obama’s second term?
The Hornet may very well be a much better all-around car than the Dart, and of course it will benefit from being an SUV and not a small car, which Americans have always been predisposed to hate. A respectable first 24 hours on sale is promising, but only time and the market can decide if this will be the entry-level Dodge that finally sticks.