The latest sign that the product planners and marketers at Fiat and Chrysler have muffed the launch of the Dodge Dart is the announcement that their Dundee, Michigan engine plant that builds the Dart’s turbocharged 1.4 liter Multiair FIRE engine has fired or reassigned 58 employees and is eliminating a second shift. The shift reduction follows remarks at the 2013 NAIAS media preview by Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne blaming poor Dart sales on the powertrain offerings. “The powertrain solutions we made available to that car, in today’s world, in hindsight, were not the ideal solution,” Mr. Marchionne said. Consumers have been disappointed in sluggish performance of the Dart. TTAC reviewer Michael Karesh said that 1.4 L turbo motor was “soft south of 3,000 rpm”.
In the critical C segment, where many manufacturers sell 200,000 (or in the case of the Honda Civic >300,000) cars a year in North America, the Dart sold only about 25,000 units since it was introduced in July.
The Dundee plant, originally a joint venture between Chrysler, Mitsubishi and Daimler, is Chrysler’s only American factory that makes four cylinder engines. After the changes, the plant will still employ 750 people. In the personnel moves, fourteen probationary employees were let go (the UAW is appealing their termination) and another 44 were reassigned to other jobs. Chrysler spokesperson Jodi Tinson put a positive face on the plant announcement, since the same factory will soon start building more of the 2.4 liter TigerShark engine that Chrysler hopes will be a better fit for consumers, but her comments more or less acknowledge that product planners made a mistake with the Darts that first hit the showrooms. “We have a new powertrain for the Dart coming online, and so we are rebalancing the mix for the Dart.”
According to Marchionne, another drivetrain improvement for the Dart, a nine-speed automatic transmission supplied by ZF, won’t be ready until 2014.
The Dart is the first new Chrysler product that wasn’t already in the pipeline when Marchionne and his minions were gifted the company by the U.S. government’s task force on restructuring GM and Chrysler. If I’m not mistaken, the production of a MPG small car was part of the government’s conditions on Fiat’s control of the Auburn Hills automaker. The piecemeal way in which the Dart’s powertrain choices are being expanded gives the impression that the car was rushed to market, using whatever they had on the shelf, in this case the 1.4L turbo, originally intended for a smaller car, the Fiat 500.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS