By on January 25, 2013

As we come to yet another hiccup in the launch of the Dodge Dart, it’s worth taking a look backwards to examine how we got to this point; the elimination of a second shift at the Dundee, Michigan plant that builds the Dart’s 1.4L FIRE engine, as well as the firing or re-assignment of 58 workers.

As both Ronnie and Michael Karesh noted, the same 1.4T FIRE engine that’s so delightful in the Fiat 500 Abarth is weaksauce in the Dart. The 1.4T’s clunky dual-clutch auto doesn’t help matters either. If it weren’t for government mandated fuel economy targets imposed as a condition of the bailout, that engine – and possibly the Dart – wouldn’t even be here right now.

Just over a year ago, UAW members at the plant had just authorized a strike at the Dundee plant over a change in shift schedules – despite an apparent agreement not to strike, as another condition of the bailout. The FIRE engine, widely panned in the Dart, seems to exist solely to satisfy the requirement that Fiat build a 40 MPG car in America – a requirement that TTAC summarily exposed as bogus, since the agreement stated that the car must get 40 MPG “unadjusted”, or roughly 30 MPG combined in the “real world” fuel economy figures that everyone is familiar with.

But without the 40 MPG Dart, the diminutive FIRE engine and U.S. production of the FIRE engine, Fiat would not have received their 20 percent stake in Chrysler, along with the option to increase their share in 5 percent increments once these milestones (the third being Fiat recording $1.5 billion in revenue outside the NAFTA Zone).

Ronnie hit the nail on the head with his summation that the Dart, as Chrysler’s first product overseen by Marchionne, was at best the victim of a botched launch, and at worst a failure made of cobbled together Chrysler and Fiat parts. But the 1.4T seems to have been a victim of meddling by the current administration instructing car companies to build vehicles consumers don’t want – a charge often leveled at the Chevrolet Volt by its more vocal critics. In this case, it’s not a complex hybrid/electric pseudo-hatch, but an underpowered version of a nicely executed compact car that was hamstrung by political pressure – that may or may not have led to a botching of the car’s launch.

The initial batch of Darts that arrived on dealer lots used the 1.4T or 2.0L non-turbo engine and were largely equipped with stick shifts – popular among “Petrol Hipsters”, but poison for the other 95 percent of American car buyers. The mismatch in product mix has been blamed for the Dart’s slow start. Next up, Sergio Marchionne himself blamed the lack of a 9-speed automatic, telling the media that buyers found the 6-speed dual clutch gearbox to be an oddity. Now it looks like the issue may lie with the FIRE engine itself; too pokey and too small for American tastes, let alone for a 3200 lb car (for comparison, the Fiat 500 Abarth that uses the FIRE engine weighs 2500 lbs and provides fairly rapid acceleration). The irony is that only one model, the 1.4T equipped Dart Aero, actually gets 40 MPG or above. Since the government agreement specified that the 40 MPG car be “produced in commercial quantities”  without any concrete definition, it’s impossible to know how many 40 MPG Darts actually made their way into the hands of consumers. Interestingly enough, the Dart Aero is broken out as a separate model on the EPA’s fuel economy website

As a replacement for the FIRE and its capacity at the plant, Chrysler will use Dundee to build the 2.4L Tigershark 4-cylinder engines that will apparently be a much better fit for North American drivers, rather than the small turbo engine that’s more at home in A and B segment Fiat products. The 2.4L hasn’t been rated by the EPA for fuel economy yet – it likely won’t hit the 40 MPG mark, but its smoother, torquier nature is more akin to what American consumers are used to. But if it weren’t for politicians deciding that they knew better, and that filling some nebulous “green car” mandate was a holy task, this whole mess could have been avoided, and the Dart may have had a much better chance to succeeding in an already tough compact car segment.

 

 

 

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84 Comments on “Did Government Meddling Cripple The Dodge Dart?...”


  • avatar
    icemilkcoffee

    It’s just not true that the 1.4T was too small for the Dart. The Cruze sold perfectly fine with its 1.4T engine, and the Cruze isn’t any lighter than the Dart. Blame the Fiat/Chrysler engineers for not being able to build a 40mpg car with an auto transmission. Everone else in the car industry figured out how to build a 40mpg car with an auto trans. Why can’t Chysler?

    • 0 avatar
      mike978

      Agreed. It was the implementation, not the fuel economy mandate which other companies can met already.
      I recall at the time of the bailouts that some were very concerned about “Government meddling”. If this is the worst example, then those fears were unrealized.

    • 0 avatar
      saywhat

      Agreed x2 Let’s call a spade a spade. How is the government to blame vehicle design and manufacturing execution that is not on par with other more successful companies. The Dodge Avenger and Chrysler 200 are nothing to brag about and they did not have any government bailout mandates looming over them.

    • 0 avatar
      ranwhenparked

      Agreed, if the “40mpg” powertrain wasn’t ready for primetime yet, Chrysler should have just built whatever they could that was reasonably competitive, and waited until the pieces were in place for the high efficiency version later on.

      Fiat was trying to rush their takeover of Chrysler, and they cut corners to get it done on an abbreviated timetable.

    • 0 avatar
      billfrombuckhead

      Let’s revisit this question when the 9 speed automatic put the Dart into an industry leadership position. The critics lambasted the Charger/300 about their transmission when they came out and Chrysler fixed that and they’ll do the same with the Dart. The Cherokee and 200 will debut with class leading drivetrains, so Chrysler is moving ahead. BTW, the government knew Chrysler could build strong selling gas hogs but whta would happen if gas went to 5$ a gallon, so it was smart for the government to hedge their bets.

      As far as government involvement maybe the government should end all those subsidies to oil companies and the use of our military to protect the oil industry and then there are those ethanol subsidies.

      So called “free markets” only exist in theory but not in reality.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Great, now blame the government for crappy engineering, I’ll bet Ford’s Ecoboost 4 would work wonders there.

    • 0 avatar
      ramhemi

      i have been a sales manager at a chrysler dealership for almost 25 years..our history bears out that vehicles have to be priced in stairsteps for all models to sell well…anytime a new model is introduced, until it is less money than the next biggest vehicle, the only people who will buy the new model are the ones who want it regardless of price…that combined with intro w/ only stick shift has kept our dart sales low..you can buy a much larger 200 or avenger for less right now…once the price structure falls in line..we should do well with the new dart as it is a very nice vehicle in it’s class…we ran into the same problem with dakota pickups..at the end they were more money than a full size truck, so sales dropped

      • 0 avatar
        dwight

        agreed. the 200 is a bargain right now and gas mileage is good on a 2.4L 6-speed auto. comparing the two cars (200 vs dart) the 200 comes out ahead in price. and the 200 is a nice enough car to drive with the latest upgrades. I almost bought a 200 and could have had a 4-speed out the door for under 21 grand taxes, freight included (cdn $). Not bad for a brand new mid-size sedan.

  • avatar
    hf_auto

    Please, please, please, TTAC, stop repeating the “Obama forced GM to design the Volt” story- this isn’t Fox News. The Volt was born in 2006, the concept shown in January 2007, production model shown in September 2008, and Obama took office in January 2009. Only the actual start of production took place during the presidency.

    I’m not debating the desirability of the car, it’s just that “blaming” it on the adminisitration is straight up false.

    • 0 avatar
      TEXN3

      Wrong car dude.

      • 0 avatar
        hf_auto

        Second half of the 4th paragraph talks about the volt, like the dart, being a car the the current administration instructed a carmaker to build.

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        The Volt is mentioned above.

        More to the point, it may be “a charge often leveled at the Chevrolet Volt by its more vocal critics”, but it’s the journalist’s duty to point out that the charge is false and only stated by people who can’t think critically or absorb facts.

        Otherwise, you devolve into he said/she said nonsense like the 24-hour news networks (not just Fox, CNN and MSNBC too) rather than reporting The Truth.

      • 0 avatar
        TEXN3

        It’s not the point of the article, it’s two (lengthy) sentences. All I see is “political pressure”, nothing about Obama or the Democrats at the Capitol.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I agree the Volt is one of the few missteps of the last few years you can’t blame on the current administration.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        It’s true that the Volt was developed long before the current administration came into office, but once in office Obama took the ball and ran with it, endorsing and praising the Volt and coercing his cronies in the government and business world to all get behind the Volt and buy them for their fleets.

        What were they thinking!? Compete with the Prius!? Who wants to place their faith in an electric motor powered by a battery fed by a gas-generator? At least the Prius had direct drive from the gas engine, should anything electric fail.

        I’m no candidate for anything EV or Hybrid because I don’t believe in them, but it appears that the vast majority of Americans also don’t buy into that liberal leftist green weenie movement of weaning the world off oil and making them dependent on renewable energy sources.

        Remember that the 500 also bombed in the US, and I have to admit that it was a surprise to me that the 500 was not universally accepted in the large metropolitan centers like NYC, LA, etc.

        The best selling vehicles are the F150 and the Camry, and Obama had nothing to do with that either except that he endorsed the Volt publicly where Shrub endorsed the F150 (publicly on his ranch when chauffeuring around foreign dignitaries in it, with plenty of press coverage).

        The Dart failed for any number of reasons and pressure from Uncle Sam, inferred or implied, may have added to the many reasons. Fiatsler can still salvage the Dart by making only one high-content model and pricing it below Civic and Corolla, more along the lines of the Elantra.

        I bet they’d sell a lot better then.

      • 0 avatar
        sunridge place

        ‘ but once in office Obama took the ball and ran with it, endorsing and praising the Volt and coercing his cronies in the government and business world to all get behind the Volt and buy them for their fleets’

        Clueless as usual HDC. The federal govt bought a whopping 163 Volts in FY 2012.

        http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/hyundai-sonata-hybrid-is-the-governments-green-car-of-choice/

        GE backed out of most of their Volt purchase.

        http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-01-07/natural-gas-vies-with-electric-hybrids-in-ge-auto-fleet.html

        http://www.plugincars.com/why-general-electric-backing-down-its-plug-pledge-126022.html

        Its a nice story you try to tell….but its not the truth no matter how many times you try to say it is.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Well the President and his cronies did seem to latch onto the Volt as a symbol of (1) what they saved and (2) what the future could bring because of point one, despite the administration own task force findings: “GM is at least one generation behind Toyota on advanced, “green” powertrain development.”

        So they took the Volt and turned it into a political football, and in the end, backed the wrong horse. The success or failure of the Volt was largely off the shoulders of the White House, they would have been better served by highlighting the success of the GM SUV/CUV lines. However in a PR attempt to look like saviors and push and eco-Communist agenda, they ended up with egg on their faces. That’s politics.

        Personally if I were the chief strategist, or press secretary, or whomever makes these kind of decisions I would have been much more cautious about backing any new technology from a company I just bailed out. I might of pointed it out and suggested this could be the start of something big, but I would never let any senior member of my administration say anything good or bad about it, just wait and see… so then you’re covered in the event of pariah. But well like a lot of missteps, it will quietly be forgotten… just like another one involving inexplicably giving assault rifles to drug cartels, what was that called again?

        http://evworld DOT com/blogs/index.cfm?authorid=209&blogid=728&archive=1

        the above cites this link

        http://www.whitehouse DOT gov/assets/documents/GM_Viability_Assessment.pdf

        http://www.usatoday DOT com/story/driveon/2012/10/25/obama-chevrolet-volt/1656353/

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      It was clear to all by mid 2008 that the market in which a $40,000 plugin would succeed was gone forever.

      It was also clear by then that GM’s survival through the coming bad times would depend on federal government support. A condition of that support was placating the California greenbean delegation. That meant throwing good money after bad with the Volt but it was house money anyway. GM didn’t have a choice.

      Obama isn’t to blame for that. Obama is just one more symptom of 2008′s toxic environment.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        If you read the part where it says ” For consideration received….” it seems to me that for the consideration received, including the receipt of US Treasury loans, the government stipulated that Fiatsler had to produce a car based on Fiat parent platform that had a fuel efficiency rating of AT LEAST 40mpg.

        I don’t know if that is considered meddling but it sure appears to be a stipulation in order to qualify for a loan, or a bribe. It does appear that the government, thus the Obama administration in 2009, had a hand in demanding something from Fiat in return for the loan, 20% stake, etc. (consideration received)

        And since it had to be based on a Fiat platform, Fiatsler stuffed that tiny engine under the hood of the Dart. Turned out it was the little engine that couldn’t.

  • avatar

    There you go Derek. The ‘real’ Dart is now here. I am starting to believe that the 1.4 was ‘rushed’ in order for Fiat to get that stake. Now that it’s done its bit, it can go back to Europe or South America where it’s greatly appreciated. Guess Chrysler, I mean Fiat, figured pissing off some customers was worth it to get that delicious chunk of Chrysler. Business as usual.

  • avatar
    ICARFAN

    A 1.4 liter Fiat motor that does not make any power below 3000 RPM? Sounds like every Fiat I have ever owned. LOL

  • avatar

    Meant as a reply to ICARFAN:

    3000 to 3500 is the shift point on any Fiat I’ve ever owned. That is if we’re at sea level on a flat straightaway. If in the mountains or at altitude, 4000 rpm should do it!

    LLOOOLLLL!!!!!!

  • avatar
    tbone33

    So Chrysler makes yet another car that is heavier than its competitors and puts in an engine that’s on par with those competitors…and the engine is to blame when the car is slow?

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      The Dart’s 1.4T is not on par with its competitors; the torque curve is markedly lower at low RPMs. I’ve driven it; it’s a dog. My friend’s Cruze 1.4T is a much nicer ride.

      • 0 avatar
        tbone33

        1. The multiair still puts down more power down low than a Civic, or Corolla, and is similar to the Mazda3 with Skyactiv.
        2. Lack of low RPM push can almost always be fixed by reducing weight. See the same engine in the Abarth, or my old Miata.
        3. After test driving a Sonic with the 1.4 turbo, I don’t know if I want a torque monster without much up top. I feel like an engine’s powerband is a preference thing…at least with a manual.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        tbone – It would be one thing if the Dart’s 1.4T was weak overall, but had a linear power curve. From what I have read about the Dart 1.4T, the car will barely move from a stop and starts getting underway once the RPM passes finally passes 3000. I picture a power curve that looks something like a valley meeting a sheer cliff at 3000 RPM, rather than a progressive slope.

        Does that about sum it up gslippy?

      • 0 avatar
        gslippy

        @burgersandbeer: You’ve described it well. The Dart may do well if thrashed, but townie driving requires it to move along at lower rpms, which it won’t. So you have to semi-thrash it all the time. It’s probably nicer to drive at the track than to the market.

        @tbone33: Losing weight would be good for the Dart, but it would certainly become louder, less comfortable, or less safe. That ship sailed a long time ago.

  • avatar
    Burnout

    Drove the Dart 1.4 w/manual…plenty of zip…looks better than the competitors, option choice is better too…sales are decent but not what Marchionne expected…big deal…

    Seems more to me that the Pentastar-haters out there are simply trying to make more of this than there is…

    Reality in 2013…Chrysler has more market share than it has had in years, it has plenty of great looking/driving products across the Dodge/Chrysler/Jeep/Fiat lines, it’s winning the fight against the “quality” critics (i.e. better ratings in Consumer Reports, listed as Consumer Digest Best Buys, etc.) and there you have it…kudos to Marchionne and crew!

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      I’m not a Pentastar hater; quite the contrary – I’ve owned 4 of them. And I really love the Dart’s looks, pricing, and mix of drivetrains – on paper. But the 1.4T execution is poor, and its initial quality is only fair.

      • 0 avatar
        DPerkins

        I test drove the Dart with a dual-clutch automatic. Dreadful. The salesman tried to convince me that it would “improve in the months ahead as it learned my driving style”. Layer on top of that an ill-fitting interior, orange-peel and dirt in the paint on the hood and there was no way I was buying one.

        A terrible effort by Chrysler, it made the Chrysler 200 look wonderful by comparison.THAT’s why it’s not selling in my opinion.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    “If it weren’t for government mandated fuel economy targets imposed as a condition of the bailout, that engine – and possibly the Dart – wouldn’t even be here right now.”

    If you seriously believe that Chrysler wasn’t going to otherwise offer a car that would compete against the Focus, Cruze, Corolla and Civic, then you’re nuts. You may as well just rechristen this as the the Fox “News” Car Blog, and call it a day.

    The name is wrong. (They should have called it a Neon, since it will allow more people to immediately identify what it’s supposed to be. I doubt that most likely buyers of compact sedans even know what a Dart is.)

    The fuel requirement is wrong. (The turbo requires premium.)

    The marketing (at least what I’ve seen of it) is bad. For selling this segment of car, they really should borrow from the Toyota playbook, i.e. use simple ads that are centered around customer testimonials, instead of trying convince us that the car is young, sexy and exciting.

    As has been noted, they launched with too many manual transmission vehicles on lots. They may appeal to internet car enthusiasts, but that makes no sense in the real world of the US car market.

    You should also note that the 1.4 liter turbo is part of Fiat’s global engine lineup. Fiat is generally a maker of small displacement engines. The company’s inclination to utilize it here is the sort of thing that would make sense to an accountant who is endeavoring to amortize costs across a broader base of sales.

    This is a very tough class in which to compete. As several of us have stated here repeatedly, it is essential that compacts and midsized family cars target the specific demands of Americans if they are ever to achieve any sales volume. It is simply not feasible to expect many Americans to adapt to vehicles and vehicle features that were designed primarily for Europeans.

    • 0 avatar
      WheelMcCoy

      +101

    • 0 avatar
      mjz

      Pch101: Agree with your assessment. This is the second major launch under Marchionne (Fiat 500 and now Dodge Dart) that has been quite troubled and makes me concerned for future product decisions (like elimination of one of the minivans) that are now being made.

      The big players in the Dart market segment are the dull as dishwater Corolla, Civic, Cruze, etc. To your point, Dodge tried to make the Dart “young, sexy and exciting” by marketing it as sort of a mini Italian Charger, emphasizing the sporty Rallye model (just recently discontinued) and saddling it with a dizzying array of trim packages, powertrains and options. Unfortunately, the Dart is not currently able to deliver on the “performance” promise it made.

      The decision to launch the car into the dealerships with Rallye trim packages and the expensive 1.4T engine option plus all manual transmissions was another MAJOR marketing blunder. Only 6% of total car sales are manual transmission models. That means Dodge effectively ignored 94% of the buying public who wouldn’t/couldn’t test drive a manual transmission car. Then they introuce the DDCT “auto” transmission to lackluster reviews. Another blunder.

      I have faith that they will right the Dart’s ship as they have with the Fiat 500. They have already taken steps by eliminating the Rallye version, and drastically consolidating the option/trim packages on the remaining models as well as cutting the option package pricing. The new Dart GT can’t get here fast enough! With the amount of equipment it is packing for $20,990, plus the 2.4 engine, it could help reverse the initial lackluster sales performance. Introduction of the 9-speed auto and greater availablity of the 2.4 to other trims (maybe Limited and SXT) could help boost future sales as well. Dodge should also seriously consider adding the hatchback version of the Dart (see Fiat Viaggio), especially if Chrysler has perhaps decided not to do the Chysler 100 hatch (see Lancia Delta), as originally palnned.

    • 0 avatar

      “If you seriously believe that Chrysler wasn’t going to otherwise offer a car that would compete against the Focus, Cruze, Corolla and Civic, then you’re nuts. You may as well just rechristen this as the the Fox “News” Car Blog, and call it a day.”

      How can you possibly extrapolate this from the body of the article, unless it’s some kind of fallacious preface to shore up the credibility of your counter-argument. Re-name it the Neon? Please. Baruth and a small cadre of SCCA types may have fond memories of that nameplate. I’m not sure the rest of the populace would be so receptive to it, even if it is more familiar than “Dart”

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Paul Niedermeyer figured out why the penchant for name changes is damaging to a brand:

        http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2008/07/general-motors-death-watch-189-name-and-form/

        Chrysler sold over 2.2 million Neons, and was building them through 2004. In contrast, the Dart name was retired in 1976. Given that the Dart of yesteryear wasn’t some sort of automotive icon, I would say that 28 years makes a bit of difference.

        Personally, I never liked the Neon, but that’s besides the point. Companies have to go to great lengths and expense to build recognition for their products, so it makes sense to use a name that some consumers might actually know. The Caliber’s resemblance to a truck probably made it a bad nameplate for this body style, but Neon would have suited it to a T.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      The Fiat version of the Dart is made here for export, and the 1.4T is fine for those places where the car will be exported. All that’s necessary for the American market is a bigger four, the 2.4, and an auto transmission, and both are either here or in the works. Sergio rushed the Dart like Ackerson rushed the Malibu, but Sergio had better reason to, and ultimately the Dart will make money due to spreading the costs over both the Fiat and Dodge volume.

      There will be plenty of room to lower the base price of the car and offer a spiffier interior for a slight additional charge, or include that in the 2.4/ZF-auto option package. While Fiat engineers may have thought a high revving low end pig of a performer would work in America, the increased sales of the 2.4/auto will convince Sergio that that Fiat’s eggbeater engines won’t work here. If it doesn’t, if Fiat continues to push turbo boosted small engines with no low end grunt, then Chrysler’s and Fiat’s future will be very short.

  • avatar
    wmba

    The FIRE nomenclature is 30 years old. MultiAir is the important part, because it’s the cylinder head that is the advanced part of the design these days.

    The European Abarth has the T-Jet head on the same block, an older version. There are even older versions, stretching back to the 1980s. The block has remained the same, the head has changed.

    So calling it FIRE seven times in the article kind of misses the point. MultiAir is the key.

    The 2.4l MultiAir engine is codenamed Tigershark. I bet it won’t transform the Dart either. Its genesis was the World Engine designed by the consortium of Chrysler, Hyundai and Mitsubishi who use the same block with their own cylinder heads. The current EVO X uses the block, as does the Sonata and turbo Sonata. However, they all make their own these days. The Wikipedia entry is pretty good on this one.

    • 0 avatar
      Magnusmaster

      I wonder how similar is the MultiAir engine to the South American FIRE engines which don’t have MultiAir? I thought the MultiAir was a totally different design than the old FIRE but the issues posted here are the same I’ve got with my Fiat Uno and its 1.4 FIRE EVO engine. The engine can barely move the car, specially at low rpms. In fact, driving the car at low speeds is a pain since the 2nd gear is totally inflexible and as soon as you start accelerating you’ll need to switch to 3rd and go at a constant 40 kph (or 25 mph for those not fluent in metric) and try not to break OR hear the painful screaming of the engine as it goes over 3000rpm in 2nd gear. It gets better at higher speeds but the engine still can’t keep up with the car and it can barely hit 100kph (or 60mph).

      • 0 avatar

        Hey Magnusmaster! I believe Fiat has been shortening the gear ratios in both Fire and E.tor-Q (sp??) to offset a little the perceived lag of torque dowm low. I think it’s a mistake. I agree, the Evo Fires are not that god and neither are the etorqs. They should let their engines do what they were designed to do, or change their engine designs totally. I believe they are going down a dangerous road, not satisfying completely new owners while turning off the old ones. Heck, even me, a guy who likes Fiats, would only consider the 500 or Uno in their current line. And probably would take the Uno in 1.0 form as it is allowed to behave more “naturally” in that configuration. They do need a new 1.4 actually. From what I’ve read, seems that MultiAir tech on that engine transforms it. Just as a Fire 1.4 or Fire Evo it’s not that good. Shame that when iot was a fire 1.25 16v it was actually better.

  • avatar
    nickoo

    An aftermarket tune will go a long ways towards fixing the 1.4L turbo. Yeah, the car was rushed, but it was still a good business move by Fiat to beat the deadline and win the stake. The dart is a great value for what you get and technically a small midsize so weight really isn’t comparible to most other compacts. The biggest issue in my opinion is the styling, the cars, especially the swooped belt line and the rear end shape/tail lighting choice were not good styling choices.

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    I was going to reply on this, but am instead, cleaning rum and coke out of my keyboard after learning that the little Fiat 500 weighs 2500lbs.

  • avatar
    OnlineAlias

    Let not forget that without government meddling, Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and SRT wouldn’t even be here. If this is all the meddling that we have to deal with, I’d say its not much of a problem.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      As the owner of a 2012 Grand Cherokee I want to add that without the development help from Daimler I would not enjoy a Grand Cherokee that’s on par with an ML-class, nor would we have hot sellers like the 300 and all the SRTs.

      • 0 avatar
        cgjeep

        When the ML came out in 98 the Grand Cherokee (ZJ) was better and not a new design at that point. The ML was body on frame, poorly made (not a Jeep strong point either), incapable of being driven off road yet still handled worse on the road. The 99 Grand Cherokee(WJ)pulled further away from the ML. The first Grand Cherokee that Mercedes “helped” with was the 2005 (WK) and it is considered the worse Grand Cherokee. So being on par is worse than they were without Mercedes’s hindrance.

      • 0 avatar
        ellomdian

        I was going to log in to reply that McMercedes did little to help Jeep, and a lot to hurt it, and I saw someone had already beaten me to the punch. While you may enjoy wandering around malls in a softened mommy-mobile, the rich folks up the hill who have bought Jeeps for DECADES bailed in the mid 2000′s when they started spending more time in the shop than on the road. I still see a good number of ’99 and ’00 WJs parked next to brand new 911s (and in one case a 430.)

        The only people driving newer (post 2010) Jeeps are generally poseurs who have at least the good taste to avoid the even crasser Landies.

  • avatar
    redav

    I happen to believe that the US public DOES want 40 mpg cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Crabspirits

      Too bad the word “compromise” isn’t part of the vocabulary of the average American, and quite often, auto journalist.

    • 0 avatar
      Xeranar

      The US buying public of course wants 40+ MPG. The current manufacturers are working towards it but will only meet the requirements when required. This last round of CAFE talks the Koreans said sure and the rest of the industry freaked out.

      The cost per turbo on a car when we’re talking millions of units is miniscule. It’s really about stretching the current tech as long as possible before bringing out more expensive and exotic tricks.

      That being said most auto journalists don’t care for two reasons: They do short tests so MPG doesn’t stack up & they’re amateur racers who really care about speed and handling.

    • 0 avatar
      pgcooldad

      The US public wants everyone else to drive a 40mpg car, so they can drive their trucks with cheaper gas prices.

      • 0 avatar
        CelticPete

        +1. This. A slow POS 50HP vehicle is fine for the other guy. When push comes to shove people don’t want to buy them.

        The major reason is that for the way people normally drive 75-90mph on the highway..and frequent hard accelaration from stop lights you don’t get 40mph.

        It’s like the much hated comparision that Top Gear did between a BMW and a Prius. The BMW got better gas mileage. Eco people cried foul but most people drive much harder then the EPA.

        Buy the turbo Dart and you will be in boost so often that you will never see that great gas mileage – unless you happen to be crossing american on route 70 or something driving through Indiana at 55mph exactly.

  • avatar
    cheezeweggie

    Come on now. Did anyone really think that Fiat was going to fix Chrysler ?

  • avatar
    SilverHawk

    This first collaboration between the Chrysler & Fiat teams revealed many difficulties that could have been foreseen. Cultural differences, alone, were enough to cause problems early in the project. Not to mention the lack of sufficient 4 cyl production, which was not addressed. Marchionne knows that he is to blame, on many levels, for rushing this car into production, but his biggest failing was underestimating the learning curve that both teams needed to design, and build a successful project together. Next week, Chrysler/Fiat will announce yet another revision to their production plans. It is very likely that all the future B & C class Fiat-based vehicles, that were to be sold under the Chrysler or Dodge brands, will be delayed. The magnitude of the problem has finally hit home. I trust that Sergio will not let this mistake happen again.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    One good aspect of the 1.4 FIRE engine is that it is a very good motor. it is reliable, bullet proof and very easy to work on / maintain. I guess that most Americans would poo-poo the size but the reality is that it is a “what you need” as opposed to a “what you want” engine.
    As to whether it’s the governments fault for poor sales… Err… No! In other parts of the world the motor industry does just fine with way stricter government regulation so… build a bridge and get over it.

  • avatar
    BlackDynamiteOnline

    I’m sure the Dart is an anomaly. Chrysler has a long history of making great economy cars…..

    Wait a minute!
    BD

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    I think the verdict is in– epic fail. Speaking not of the Dart, but of Mr. Krindler’s analysis, which doesn’t seem to have convinced many, if not any, of us. The colossal chips on his shoulder have become a real bummer for this site. Not even one day after he’s called me and anyone else anyone who wants a German-built VW an “insufferable douchebag.” I look forward to the new writers you’re bringing in, and I hope his slot is available. Fox News, Glenn Beck of Breitbart surely could use a nasty, simple-minded “analyst” like him. Because snark is in such short supply nowadays.

    As for the car itself, don’t the names “Fiat” and Dodge Dart” just shout “HIgh Performance?” No, in fact they don’t. They suggest an economy car, easy on gas, not a drag racing contender. I applaud Chrysler for expanding the choices in the US market. I’m tried of overpowered cars that I have to drive using only the first inch of gas pedal travel to stay legal. They make the speed limit seem even lower than it is. Once I can buy a VW with their excellent 1.4L twin-charged engine, that’s my choice. Oh, and make it German-built, so the the haters can’t accuse it of being a Mexican.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    All this chiding of the Dart for being underpowered is kind of unfounded. It’s slow, but so is everything else in it’s direct competition. It’s faster than a run of the mill Civic, yet it’s somehow a failure for this fact?

    I drove some Darts before I got my Charger because their feature content and interior volume are impressive for a small car. The only reason I didn’t get one was the lure of the Hemi. The prospect of fuel economy was appealing, but I demand some serious enjoyment out of a car I’m shelling out for.

    I decided power was more important and got the Hemi. The Dart isn’t a bad car, I liked it a lot more than most of it’s competitors, and it does well as an economy car. If I prioritized fuel economy higher than performance, I would have got one.

    • 0 avatar
      toomanycrayons

      So, basically, you’d endorse anyone else prioritising fuel economy with this particular car to extend the short time remaining that you don’t have to?

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      If you listen to any auto ‘expert,’ every car is underpowered. Like every comment about “hard plastics,” I’ve learned to tune out such criticisms.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      “It’s faster than a run of the mill Civic, yet it’s somehow a failure for this fact?”

      The 2.0 is slower than a run of the mill Civic. The 1.4T Dart with DCCT is about as fast as a 1.8 automatic Civic(which still has a better ET in the quarter mile), in exchange for worse fuel mileage and greater cost. The 2.4 Dart will probably be quicker than a 1.8 Civic, but it won’t be close to a 2.4 Civic, which is quicker than a Focus ST or GTI.

      • 0 avatar
        GeneralMalaise

        Honda makes great cars, but they have zero fun factor/personality and while I have valued and appreciated those that I’ve owned (’81 Accord and ’04 Civic Si, both bought new) as reliable cars, I sold them both after three years of ownership. There was something lacking in both.

  • avatar
    Darkhorse

    They should have brought back the 1st gen Neon with the 1.4T. That was an attractive small car and still has name recognition.

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    OK, after seeing the words “pokey”, “slow”, and “dog” applied here endlessly to the Dart I decided to get a little more quantitative. Found a road test report saying the 1.4 automatic Dart does 0-60 in 9 seconds flat.

    I’m sorry, but I am having trouble viewing the car as the problem, rather than overblown expectations that economy transportation appliances need to perform like sports cars did a few years ago. There’s nothing wrong or inadequate with nine seconds 0-60. I’d buy a car that took 15 seconds to get from 0-60 if that was the price I had to pay to get 50 MPG.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    Fiat created the Dart Aero (I’m guessing) specifically to meet the government mandate as part of the buy-in into Chrysler. I really don’t see the difference between that and the Cruze and Cruze Eco variants; I’m sure the Cruze Eco performs the same function for GM/Chevy.

    How is this worse than Hyundai, claiming to have 40 MPG cars, only to be caught mis-representing claims and now having to pony up for their sins? Unlike the Aero (and the Eco for that matter) which really are 40 MPG cars, it turns out few of the Hyundais reached their claimed mileage.

    I agree with the Dodge dealer who posted further up; the New-Dart or New-Neon if you will, is not the stellar value when compared to the Chrysler 200 or the Avenger, both of which it shares showroom space. Add in the odd product equipment mix and the high priced (at least in my neck of the woods) packages on the dealer lots, I’m not surprised the sales have been tepid.

    But to imply that the government’s mandate for 40 MPG cars caused this to go so poorly as it has is a bit of a stretch, IMO. I may not be Sergio’s biggest fan, but the guy isn’t a fool either. I think they’ll get this straightened out. And probably without fines from the government, either.

  • avatar
    reclusive_in_nature

    I blame Global Laming.

  • avatar
    HerrKaLeun

    “Next up, Sergio Marchionne himself blamed the lack of a 9-speed automatic, telling the media that buyers found the 6-speed dual clutch gearbox to be an oddity. ”

    how does a 9-gear tranny not be an oddity? Assuming the 6-speed dual clutch also shifts automatically, people don’t care. Toyota has been selling 4-speed Corollas for ever when everybody else had 5-speeds without sales suffering.

    Government here is not to blame other than bailing them out in the first place. Chrysler wasn’t able to sell small cars well before the bailout either. And a government mandate of 40 mpg un-adjusted (30 mpg adjusted) isn’t really strict. The 10 year old Fit can manage 35 mpg real world city mileage (40+ mpg highway real world) without fancy technology while providing great cargo room.

    Chrysler just isn’t good at building cars, especially small ones. And neither is Fiat (if you ever wondered where the Fiat jokes come from…). Why did anyone think putting 2 companies together that aren’t able to build and sell good cars would make them a good manufacturer?

    Oh, you don’t want to buy a Chrysler because of its bad reputation for quality? Don’t worry, we now improved and mixed Fiat parts into the car… very comforting indeed.

    I think back then everyone got excited about that ridiculous Fiat 500 where people thought just bringing that to the US would solve all oil, environmental and economical problems. Ever wondered why no serious person in Europe is buying those, not even at bargain prices?

    • 0 avatar

      HerrKaLeun, I believe we’ve been down this road before, but I will respectfully disagree. Both Fiat (500, Uno, 600, Panda among scores of others) and Chrysler (Valiant, Neon among others) can make small cars. In fact, they make small cars that I’d much prefer to most (but not all) the competition.

      You can say whatever you like but saying that no serious person would consider a 500? Where does that come from? Hyperbole is ok, but if you actually believe that, well, I’m sorry for you.

      • 0 avatar
        HerrKaLeun

        I don’t mean to offend someone who buys a Fiat 500. To each his own. But the price structure in the US basically makes it a fun second car, not a first car someone would buy for just the appliance. The price of a Honda fit, but half the size. by serious i mean someone evaluating the appliance value for the cost.

        I know Fiat is more popular in Brazil, but in Europe, its home market, the sales numbers for the entire company are bad, as bad as the (deserved) reputation.

        Its niche in the US is like the Mini, except it is not successful. At least it is not rescuing Chrysler.

        And can both companies make small cars? Most certainly yes. But can they make good small cars and make money on them? Neither the Neon nor the Caliber won any accolades or were sold to people who could have afforded something else.

      • 0 avatar

        Ok, now you’re making more sense. For you, and your evaluation of cost benefit, it does not seem right. Here in Brazil, with our different price structure, the Fit and the 500 cost about the same. If I were buying a car purely as an appliance neither would make the grade. I agree with you there. Unless of course you’re single, live in the ciity etc. the even in America the 500 can work as a firt car. In Brazil (I stress again) the Fit doesn’t make sense in that way either cause of high initial price. Secondhand it does fine, but I would not swallow the depreciation of the 1st buyer.

        As to Fiat’s reputation, my experience is the opposite. Since it beginning in Brazil over 40 yrs ago its credibility has been growing. There are solid reasons for that. The cars are not perfect, but they break down about as much as everybody else’s. In Brazil one of their advantages is exactly that, Fiats are (together with VW) the easiest, fastest and easiest to fix. It’s funny how perceptions of different brands varies from country to country. VW is seen as unreliable in America but as reliable in Brazil and Europe. Fiat is seen as reliable in Brazil and parts of Europe but not as much as in other parts of Europe. In America the jury is still out.

        As to making money, rest assured Fiat makes a pretty penny in Brazil and elsewhere outside of Western Europe. With their help Chrysler sales are growing and the company is profitable. Let’s see how it goes, but with Fiat’s (so far) succesful entry into China, the magical 6 million sales the Marchionne says a global competitor needs is within sight. Don’t think Fiat-Chrysler will join all those dead companies anytime soon.

        Finally the cars. Don’t have first hand experience with many Chryslers. But I’ve driven Journeys extensively. Brazilian Darts and Polaras and Dakotas, a Neon (pre-Daimler) once. All seemed fine by me. Not earth-shattering but nothing offputting enough that were the price right and in the absence of competitors that are better by a large margin, I’d feel comfortable buying a Chrysler. To some (like me) the underdog quality of both companies just adds to their charm. As to Fiats small cars I think they owe nothing to nobody.

        In Brazil there is no shortage of small cars for Fiat to compete with. To me they more than hold their own. I’m not blind though. At the moment, barring the Uno, 500 and maybe Punto and Freemont, I think their whole line is in trouble. They now have enough buyers preferring them that they are no longer the cost benefit champions of yore. Renault-Nissan has been especially agressive and lately so has Chevy.

        Anyway, like you say, to each his own.

  • avatar
    jimboy

    Lots of blah, blah, blah here, not much common sense.

    Both the 500 and the Dart have enjoyed steadily increasing sales each and every month since their introduction, that is a fact. I believe the 500 now outsells the much more highly praised Mini, which is it’s closest competition. How many years has the Mini been around?
    The Dart did have a slow start, and it certainly does have something to do with the choices originally offered, but to call it a failure is the most stupid comment I’ve heard on this site, so far. What other car in its class offers THREE different engine and transmission combinations, soon to be FOUR. Please name just one?

    Most automotive publications, including this one, scream for small displacement turbos and manual or ddct transmissions, and when you actually get what you whined for, all you can think to do is bitch like 5 year olds. What a pack of losers!

    I have said it here before when all you witty pundits were squealing about the death of Chrysler, that it will survive AND prosper without any help from you know -nothings.
    I believe that was about 2 years ago just prior to the release of their excellent new line up. Well, check back again later and you’ll find that the Dart has moved to the front ranks of sales. Calling a car a failure after 9 months on the market is a fool’s game, and you’re all in it.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      I’m not calling it a failure yet, but the two Darts I test drove were not impressive enough to buy.

      As for all those drivetrain options – so what? You can only take one of them home, and the ones currently available are not so good.

      Small displacement turbos – when well-executed – receive good press here and elsewhere. GM’s 2.0T, 1.4T, Hyundai/Kia’s 2.0T, Ford’s EcoBoost line, VW/Audi’s turbos… all do well with little complaint about their performance. The Fiat/Dodge 1.4T is a real standout in a bad way.

      It is true that enthusiasts cry for MTs, but TTAC is that few people buy them. The Dodge stick isn’t good. I think the Fiat stick is better. Throwing a DDCT to market doesn’t mean it will be praised if it’s poorly done.

      I seriously doubt the Dart will move to the front line of sales. It swims in a sea of tough, tough competition. The Dart has about 8 more months to prove it has a future. It must come out with a credible 2.4, an SRT variant (2.4T?), improvements to its MT and DDCT, and improvements to overall quality. The early models I drove had loose headlight switches in the dashboard, for instance. The nicest part of the Dart’s drivetrain is the Hyundai-supplied AT.

      Having said all that, I still think the Dart is the best-looking compact on the market, and I’d take one more look if I was in the market.

      • 0 avatar
        GeneralMalaise

        The 1.4T is a great little motor in the Abarth. I own one and have zero complaints.

      • 0 avatar
        davefromcalgary

        Granted I haven’t yet driven a Dart, it seems to me that if Dodge could tune the 1.4T for a bit of drive-ability, IE a bit more low end, less lag, perhaps better automatic transmission programing, people would focus less on hammering its power train and focus on its strengths?

        Seems like they didn’t change it much from the 500. These are different cars, after all.

  • avatar
    GeneralMalaise

    A rocky start but the 500 has been selling at a 4800 units per month clip in the U.S. That’s a hit in my book.

    • 0 avatar
      sunridge place

      The 500 has had some decent sales improvements….but your numbers are wrong.

      It has never sold 4800 units in the US. Highest monthly sales was 4176 units. December 2012 was 3707 units.

      CY 2012 was 43,772 units….or about 3650 units per month.

      • 0 avatar
        GeneralMalaise

        Thanks for the correction. Still a hit.

      • 0 avatar
        sunridge place

        Eeeeh…wouldn’t call it a ‘hit’ or a total failure.

        They have a pretty constant $1000 rebate or 0% for 60 months and some $199 per month with 1k down leases that are bound to suck some of the profits out of it.

        I doubt they wanted to do that for a $16,000-$20,000 vehicle.

        I live in Austin, Tx…not sure if its still true but for a while Austin had the #1 volume Fiat dealership in America. I think Sergio came here to acknowledge them.

        Nice showroom in a nice shopping area. I see quite a few Fiats around here and it is worth noting that Fiat has under 200 dealerships nationwide right now supporting those sales.

  • avatar
    Glen.H

    Gosh, don’t you guys realize everything that ever goes wrong in the car industry (and everyone’s life too)is the Big Government’s fault? You are sentenced to read twenty Brock Yates columns and two P.J. O’Rourke books until you all recant such heresies!

  • avatar
    chicagoland

    Japan and Korea, not to mention Germany pour money into their car industry. VW is owned by Lower Saxony, a state in the FRG. So VW should be called “Gov-Wagen”

  • avatar
    scribble

    So: DO you want to discuss the Dart, or diss Obama and the UAW?

    I don’t mind some politics and some good business reporting mixed in with a little flamboyant car snarkiness in the morning — but good politics and business writing both require more adult approaches than sports writing does. Do it right or you screw your article.

    You didn’t do it right. Too many gratuitous dog whistle talking points borrowed from Fox News. I look forward to your comments regarding Mitt Romney.

    The pity is; you’re probably correct about this Dart’s engineering choices. … but thanks for playing.


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