Slow Dart Sales Cause Elimination of Shift at Dundee Engine Plant, There's No Replacement For Displacement

Ronnie Schreiber
by Ronnie Schreiber

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

Ronnie Schreiber
Ronnie Schreiber

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, the original 3D car site.

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  • Nick Nick on Jan 30, 2013

    'a nine-speed automatic transmission supplied by ZF' 9 speeds? How many people really care vs. 6 or 7?

    • PrincipalDan PrincipalDan on Jan 30, 2013

      ZF is planning on selling it to many different makers. In my brain 9 speeds is like having a CVT without having a CVT. It's sort of a reach around on CVT hate. ;)

  • Rayb2403 Rayb2403 on Sep 19, 2013

    i have driven many fiats with small turbo charged engines, all have been a blast to drive, fiat have this style of engine perfected, perhaps the problem lies with chrysler/dodge?

  • 1995 SC PA is concerning, but if it spent most of its life elsewhere and was someone's baby up there and isn't rusty it seems fairly priced.
  • CanadaCraig I don't see ANY large 'cheap' cars on the market. And I'm saying there should be.
  • 1995 SC I never cared for the fins and over the top bodies on these, but man give me that interior all day. I love it
  • 1995 SC Modern 4 door sedans stink. The roofline on them is such that it wrecks both the back seat and trunk access in most models. Watch someone try to get their kid into a car seat in the back of a modern sedan. Then watch them try to get the stroller into the mail slot t of a trunk opening. I would happily trade the 2 MPG at highway speed that shape may be giving me for trunk and rear seat accessibility of the sedans before this stupidity took over. I ask you, back in the day when Sedans were king, would any of them with the compromises of modern sedans have sold well? So why do we expect them to sell today? Make them usable for the target audience again and just maybe people will buy them. Keep them just as they are and they'll keep buying crossovers which might be the point.
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X As much problems as I had with my '96 Chevy Impala SS.....I would love to try one again. I've seen a Dark Cherry Metallic one today and it looked great.
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