The Dodge Dart Is Dead: Here's Why

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain

“If you’re a serious carmaker and you can’t make it in this segment, you’re doomed.”


Sergio Marchionne, September 2012

“There’s nothing wrong with the car.”


Sergio Marchionne, January 2013

“We have decided to de-focus, from the manufacturing standpoint, to de-focus on the passenger car market.”


Sergio Marchionne, January 2016

The launch was flubbed by an emphasis on manual transmissions. The brand lacked the reputation of a competitive builder of small cars after 15 years of Neons and Calibers. Trim and engine variants were, sometimes, poorly aligned. The market for passenger cars began to shrink even as the overall auto industry expanded. Demand for the Dart, limited even at its peak, dried up as most Dart competitors posted modest declines.

The reasons for the Dodge Dart’s demise are many. At the end of its run, however, the Dodge Dart’s production end in September 2016 represents a premature euthanization. After Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ boss said less than seven months ago that the Dart, along with the larger Chrysler 200, would be withdrawn from the marketplace “over a prolonged period of time,”

FCA has now clarified that “prolonged” equals only three-quarters of a year.

What’s the hurry? Jeep.

The Dodge Dart’s U.S. sales volume rose to an annual peak of 87,392 units in calendar year 2015, but through the first-half of 2016, Dart volume is down 41 percent, a loss of 19,976 units over the span of only six months.

The Jeep Cherokee, which will take over the Dart’s position at FCA’s Belvidere, Illinois, manufacturing facility, reported an all-time high of 220,260 sales in calendar year 2015. Sales are off that pace by 3 percent in early 2016, but Jeep wants to build more Cherokees. A lot more Cherokees. And they want to start building them sooner than later.

“The reason we’re ending [Dart] production in September is to allow ample time to retool the plant for production of Cherokee,” Jodi Tinson, an FCA Manufacturing and Labour spokesperson, told TTAC earlier this week.

There appears to be little incentive to continue building soon-to-expire compact sedans — with a base MSRP of $17,990 and interest-free financing over seven years — that attract fewer than 5,000 monthly U.S. buyers when you can look forward to selling more copies of a $24,490 Jeep Cherokee with optional $2,000 all-wheel drive and pricing that stretches past $40,000 with profit-driving high-end trims and option packages.

Between its launch in the second-quarter of 2012 and the end of June 2016, FCA reported 309,021 U.S. sales of the Dodge Dart. Twice, in November 2014 and again when sales peaked in March 2015, the Dart crested the 9,000-unit monthly mark. Never did the Dart attract more than 10,000 new owners in a single month. Even at the height of its incentive-fuelled popularity in March 2015, eight direct competitors outsold the Dart: Corolla, Elantra, Civic, Cruze, Sentra, Focus, Jetta, Mazda3. That month, the Dart claimed just 4.4 percent market share in its category.

The Dart’s Caliber predecessor, however, produced 277,461 sales in its first three years, including a 101,079-unit U.S. sales peak in its first full year, 2007. By the end of its run, more than 400,000 Calibers were sold in America.

If the Caliber was not considered a successful venture, how will the Dart be remembered?

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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  • Whatnext Whatnext on Jul 24, 2016

    But everybody wants premium, who are all these people buying the Journey and Grand Caravan? FCA can't figure out what direction they want to go in.

    • VoGo VoGo on Jul 24, 2016

      Why doesn't FCA just call Mr. Hertz, Ms. Avis and young master Enterpise and ask them why they buy Journeys and Caravans?

  • TopJimmy5150 TopJimmy5150 on Jul 24, 2016

    They are crappy, ill-conceived cars. This was a mercy killing.

  • Dartdude Having the queen of nothing as the head of Dodge is a recipe for disaster. She hasn't done anything with Chrysler for 4 years, May as well fold up Chrysler and Dodge.
  • Pau65792686 I think there is a need for more sedans. Some people would rather drive a car over SUV’s or CUV’s. If Honda and Toyota can do it why not American brands. We need more affordable sedans.
  • Tassos Obsolete relic is NOT a used car.It might have attracted some buyers in ITS DAY, 1985, 40 years ago, but NOT today, unless you are a damned fool.
  • Stan Reither Jr. Part throttle efficiency was mentioned earlier in a postThis type of reciprocating engine opens the door to achieve(slightly) variable stroke which would provide variable mechanical compression ratio adjustments for high vacuum (light load) or boost(power) conditions IMO
  • Joe65688619 Keep in mind some of these suppliers are not just supplying parts, but assembled components (easy example is transmissions). But there are far more, and the more they are electronically connected and integrated with rest of the platform the more complex to design, engineer, and manufacture. Most contract manufacturers don't make a lot of money in the design and engineering space because their customers to that. Commodity components can be sourced anywhere, but there are only a handful of contract manufacturers (usually diversified companies that build all kinds of stuff for other brands) can engineer and build the more complex components, especially with electronics. Every single new car I've purchased in the last few years has had some sort of electronic component issue: Infinti (battery drain caused by software bug and poorly grounded wires), Acura (radio hiss, pops, burps, dash and infotainment screens occasionally throw errors and the ignition must be killed to reboot them, voice nav, whether using the car's system or CarPlay can't seem to make up its mind as to which speakers to use and how loud, even using the same app on the same trip - I almost jumped in my seat once), GMC drivetrain EMF causing a whine in the speakers that even when "off" that phased with engine RPM), Nissan (didn't have issues until 120K miles, but occassionally blew fuses for interior components - likely not a manufacturing defect other than a short developed somewhere, but on a high-mileage car that was mechanically sound was too expensive to fix (a lot of trial and error and tracing connections = labor costs). What I suspect will happen is that only the largest commodity suppliers that can really leverage their supply chain will remain, and for the more complex components (think bumper assemblies or the electronics for them supporting all kinds of sensors) will likley consolidate to a handful of manufacturers who may eventually specialize in what they produce. This is part of the reason why seemingly minor crashes cost so much - an auto brand does nst have the parts on hand to replace an integrated sensor , nor the expertice as they never built them, but bought them). And their suppliers, in attempt to cut costs, build them in way that is cheap to manufacture (not necessarily poorly bulit) but difficult to replace without swapping entire assemblies or units).I've love to see an article on repair costs and how those are impacting insurance rates. You almost need gap insurance now because of how quickly cars depreciate yet remain expensive to fix (orders more to originally build, in some cases). No way I would buy a CyberTruck - don't want one, but if I did, this would stop me. And it's not just EVs.
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