In the compact segment, GM and Ford are having no trouble moving metal. The Cruze is coming off of a record month, and the Focus is slightly ahead of the Cruze year-to-date. So what about the Dodge Dart? Sales of the Dart have been incredibly weak; in a segment where the top sellers can move between 20,000 and 30,000 units monthly, the Dart has barely cracked 8,000 units per month. Not a good sign when Sergio Marchionne himself said “if you’re a serious car maker, and you can’t make it into this segment, you’re doomed.”
The Dart’s biggest competitor may not even be in the compact segment, but in the the very same showroom it lives in.
The Dart is not a bad car – far from it. I didn’t like the powertrain of the 2.0L SXT model I had - the engine felt coarse and the gearbox could not have been slower to respond -,but there were plenty of other things I found appealing; it handled well, the UConnect system was far better than the MyLink, SYNC or other competitive infotainment systems I’ve used, and everything seemed to be pretty well put together. On paper, the Dart should be pretty competitive, right?
The biggest problem standing in the Dart’s way is the Dodge Avenger. For $17,390 (including the $2,500 “cash allowance”) you can step up to a base model Avenger, which is a “bigger car” in the eyes of the average consumer, with a 2.4L engine. An SE V6, with a 283 horsepower Pentastar, is $20,090 when the “cash allowance” is taken into account, while an SXT package is another $300. Most importantly for the sub-prime market, there is currently 0 percent financing for 72 months and no payments for 90 days. This is big stuff for a car that is one of the darlings of the sub-prime market.
Open up the payment calculator and the rationale for moving up to the Avenger is even greater. A Dart SXT with the 2.0L engine (no options for simplicity’s sake, since configuring a car opens up a whole other can of worms) is $236 per month for 72 months with $3,000 down at 3.59% APR. An Avenger SE V6, with the same down payment and APR is $29 more per month.
As far as a dealer upsell goes, it’s a no brainer, and customers agree. Year to date, Dodge has sold nearly 30 percent more Avengers than Darts. Inventory data via cars.com shows 16105 Darts for sale, versus just 10832 Avengers (in terms of days of supply, Automotive News quotes 94 days worth of Darts on June 1, and just 36 days worth of Avengers). Nearly half of the examples on Cars.com are V6 models, and of those, 80 percent can be had for less than $25,000. Depending on options, it’s possible to get them for around $20,000 flat. That may be one of the most aggressive performance/dollar propositions on sale today.
I think it’s possible to make a good case that the biggest threat to the Dart is the Avenger itself, and the aggressive manner in which Dodge and its dealers (and Chrysler Capital/Santander) are pushing this car. No wonder there are constant rumors of it being killed off. It’s tough to beat from a value proposition – and if you believe Jack Baruth, it’s not actually a bad car, despite the auto press dumping on it consistently as the worst car on sale today. Speaking of which, how much love would the Dart have gotten with a Fiat or an Alfa badge on the hood. I’m sure the same faults that many were willing to criticize would have been glossed over as “character” – but we won’t know until someone translates the Mandarin language reviews of the Fiat Viaggio.