When Fiat Chrysler reinvented the Dodge Dart as an Americanized Alfa Romeo Guilietta, they did not likely anticipate it to be beaten by the rapidly decomposing, previous generation Toyota Corolla, but it is. Fitted with a 160 horsepower MultiAir turbo four or a 184 horsepower TigerShark turbo four, the Dart is a quick alternative to its slightly higher end brother, the standard and Hybrid Civics, and the outgoing Toyota Corolla. Obviously in this segment, it’s not all about power, and this is where the Dodge loses it. In the following discussion, I will express some opinions that are partially founded by my seat time as a former rental car shuttler, and I might throw in a couple of facts too.
Dodge sold 10,000 Darts in February and Toyota sold 50,000 copies of their new Corolla. Sure, the whole “new” aspect can significantly bolster sales of a compact car from either Honda or Toyota, given their reputation, but these two companies also know how to aggressively market small cars to target audiences. During the Daimler days, Dodge, Plymouth and Chrysler milked the Neon for all that it was worth and though those cars were a fraction of the car that the Dart is, Dodge clearly knew how to market them.
Where else did Dodge fall down? The Ford Focus is a very worthy adversary, given its interior quality, immediate steering response, fuel economy and range of engines. If you’re interested in fuel economy, the Chevy Cruze has more ways to do this than all but the Civic, even offering a diesel version. As it is a post-recession Chevy, the inside isn’t too bad either. The “Buy American” reason is not exactly there for the Dart. At the end of the day, the Dart just ends up falling off the charts, it’s not a terrible car, but it is falling victim to what some may call Mitsubishi syndrome: offer a very bland, functional product that makes absolutely no effort to sell itself, and one should expect fairly damp sales. Toyota and Honda do a very good job of offering bland, functional products for some configurations of some of their cars, and they sell like hotcakes; Dodge has demonstrated no ability to market these products and has absolutely no history of high build quality and reliability when compared to the Japanese makes. This seems like a poor excuse for the layoffs that Dodge will likely be temporarily imposing at their Belvidere plant.
-By: Sawyer Sutton