By on July 15, 2016

2016 Jeep® Cherokee 75th Anniversary edition

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is flinging cash at its Midwestern assembly plants as part of its world-conquering plan to boost Jeep production.

Yesterday, the automaker announced $1.05 billion in funding to retool its Belvidere, Illinois and Toledo, Ohio production facilities, and issued a kill date for one of its least popular products.

That’s right — say goodbye to the slow-selling Dodge Dart, which gets booted from Belvidere Assembly in two months to make room for Jeep Cherokee production starting in 2017. FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne plans to outsource production of small cars to another automaker, but so far, no takers have stepped up to fulfill his dream.

Belvidere gets $350 million for Cherokee production, which is being shuffled from Illinois from Toledo. FCA plans to axe the paleolithic Jeep Patriot and Compass in December, making room for a single, yet-unnamed Fiat-based model.

The Toledo Assembly Complex sees the biggest investment — $700 million, to support production of the next-generation Wrangler, expected in 2018. That model, which will see a pickup variant added to its lineup, is undergoing key weight- and fuel-saving efforts designed to make the Environmental Protection Agency happy.

FCA claims it will announce its plans for the Toledo South plant some other time. The retooling efforts, which are supported (and dependent) on state and local investments, are expected to create 1,000 new jobs.

[Image: FCA US]

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30 Comments on “Fiat Chrysler Makes Billion-Dollar Jeep Investment; Dodge Dart is Gone in September...”

  • avatar

    It’s good that they’re investing in the facilities and employing the people who make the thing that keeps their business afloat.

    They should just buy Mazda 2s and 3s, rebadge them, and shoe-horn a 3.5L mini Hemi “Hell Kitten” into them.

  • avatar

    – HELLCAT!
    – Some nonsense comment that’s vaguely on this subject, never mind on point.
    – MOAR CAPS!
    – A mention of one’s YouTube channel.
    – Mention of the Jeep HELLCAT and how I will buy one!
    – Mild insult!
    – HELLCAT!
    – Mention President Trump.
    – Pretend like I have a clue and mildly insult the CEO of FCA.

  • avatar

    Sergio Marchionne said on 60 Minutes several years ago that FCA could weather one failure(a car with tons of investment that doesn’t sell) and at that time, the Dart was just beginning to be made. Low and behold, the Dart is going away, and what about the Chrysler 200? These are two cars in two important categories, and Mr Marchionne is looking for an outside auto company to produce, at the very least, a Civic-class car. Who? Certainly not VW, Honda, Toyota, Nissan. Maybe Renault? NO. Fiat? Do North American buyers prefer a Civic-class car engineered and built by Fiat when they basically ignored a Dodge-brand car? On a personal level, I want Sergio to succeed. Commercially, though, unless VW, Honda, Toyota, and Nissan screw up bigtime(I know-VW seems to be on the knifes’ edge right now), the market isn’t interested in more Civic-class product(just ask Mitsubishi), they’re perfectly happy with the field as it is today. I would have thought that if anyone could have help FCA’s passenger car dilemma, it would be Sergio. Alas, even he is having a tough slog making a go of it.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      My take is that it’s a low-margin, dying segment in North America, and FCA won’t offer anything unless they can do it on the cheap.

      We will probably end-up with some “captive import” Dodges, just like we have, on and off, for 50 years.

    • 0 avatar

      A few years ago Hyundai may have been willing to build them a rebadged Elantra, but as nice as the new Elantra is, I very much doubt it. The Dodge Dart is crap. It handles poorly, reliability is average and fuel economy is crap. Interior materials are horrible, never mind the old motel room smell when you get into a Dart. This isn’t incompetence, but carelessness.

      • 0 avatar

        Ouch. I have a dart right now borrowed from a family member while their on vacation. I have to disagree. The handling is midpack to slightly above average for the segment, NVH is above average for the segment. Fuel economy with the 1.4t is 38mpg seems pretty good to me. The cloth seats are horribly cheap but the rest of the interior seems very durable and much better then the elentra or corolla interiors (this one is 3 years old with 35,000 miles). Of course the 1.4 is annoying as all hell to drive in a 3,300 pound car as it has no power below 2,000 rpm. but really its at least average with the rest of the segment.

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          In my mind, the Dart isn’t a bad car for its segment (whereas the 200 is below average, mostly due to that dim-witted 9-speed).

          You can tell Dodge tried.

          The problems seem to be:

          a) The botched launch; FCA should never have released such a high-profile, volume car with solely a manual transmission. That took a huge chunk out of the wave of initial interest that pads product-development costs in many instances.

          b) The Dodge brand’s general reputation for poor products in that segment. Even non-enthusiasts seem to associate Dart with “cheap” and “undesirable”. And furthermore…

          c) Chrysler’s tendency to flood rental fleets and finance a disproportionate number of sub-prime customers really drives that point home, especially because the resale value on the Dart is so low.

          I think the Dart was doomed from the start. FCA is right to focus on more-profitable products. Maybe FCA can get Mazda to reskin a 3 like they did with the MX-5 Miata, and sell that as a Dodge.

    • 0 avatar

      I am assuming Mazda is the unnamed partner who makes good small cars. It’s a good pairing on many levels, mostly Mazda needs volume and FCA needs to have small cars anyone wants to drive. The MX-5 / 124 can be seen as a test project for the 2 teams learning how to get along.

      • 0 avatar

        I think the MX-5 project might actually provide a good template. Some of the reasons people claim Mazda’s cars don’t do better are NVH, dealer network and moar power!

        The key to this sort of vehicle sharing is to clearly differentiate the two. If you took a Mazda 3, added more sound insulation, a more powerful (turbo’d?) FCA engine, and an FCA stereo, you’d probably have enough differentiation most people would be fooled. And Mazda would have plausible deniability for reliability issues (it’s Chrysler’s crappy engine!).

        Plus, a slightly heavier, more insulated, more powerful / lower gas mileage version of a 3 might be just the ticket for Chrysler customers that have more traditional American tastes.

        It’s crazy enough it might work.

  • avatar

    The Dart had potential since it was a really decent looking car on a platform that SHOULD have been a good handling one but it was marketed poorly, speced out poorly, and drove somewhat poorly compared to what it looked like it should have.

    The 200 is a nice looking car and with the V6 a pretty darn quick car with pretty decent mileage. I couldn’t say how it drives or how the back seat is.

    Mopar has decent engineers but crappy beancounters and marketers.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      True, but I think the 200 is a little more doomed than the Dart is. A lot of the transgressions that are forgivable in the compact class are not so in the cut-throat mid-sized class, whose entrants are both pushing to replace full-sized cars and often substituting for entry-level luxury (in the case of the Fusion Platinum / Sport, Accord Touring and Legacy 3.6R)

      Where the Dart looks like a victim of circumstance, the 200 seems more like what would have been a decent car except for a few glaring flaws that FCA should have been able to foresee, like the inadequate rear room and the poorly-tuned 9-speed.

  • avatar

    The sooner FCA becomes FJV, the better off they’ll be.

  • avatar

    Why are the Compass and Patriot being axed? I thought they were reaching record sales this past year. That’s pure profit for tooling that was long ago paid off. Unless it’s a capacity issue, and Jeep has something even more profitable to build. Renegade aside, I don’t think the public has an appetite for more Fiat-based cars.

    • 0 avatar

      They’re ancient, and probably about to run afoul of some new safety regulation that would require too much investment to comply with. That or maybe the parts cost isn’t working out anymore, I think they use fairly unique powertrains. And with the Cherokee and Renegade selling well, I’m not sure where you get the idea of a lack of a public appetite. I think FCA has established that they sell quite well….provided they’re SUVs. Fiat-based cars they can’t seem to sell…then again, they had trouble selling compact and midsize cars when they WEREN’T Fiat based also, so I don’t think that’s the determining factor. ;)

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      They are being axed because they are old. Tooling wears-out eventually.

      The public is fine with “Fiat-based” Jeeps. The Renegade and Cherokee are selling very well. I have a hard time believing that anybody cares who originally calculated the front axle to firewall distance for their car. It is what it is.

    • 0 avatar

      good point… The Patriot and Compass really are GARBAGE vehicles – there are so many better options out there… but their biggest selling point is that they are CHEAP to buy. If FCA is still making a bundle selling them and people are willing to settle for Garbage… then why get ride of them? Maybe they want to pass the torch over to the Journey since it will be around for a bit longer???

      • 0 avatar

        As long as they’re $10K=$15K cheaper than an equally-equipped Renegade or Cherokee, there’s no reason not to take the money of those with less to spend.

        I did forget that the Cherokee was a Fiat. And that it exists. So they have at least 5 SUVs, ranging from the Patriot/Compass on the low end, Renegade/Cherokee in the middle, and Grand Cherokee at the top. So what are they going to sell to people with $18K to spend on a new SUV?

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          The reason the Patriot and Compass *are* so cheap is because they’re cheap to make. The tooling is all paid for, and they basically print money for FCA.

          Other companies have taken to selling compact crossovers at compact-crossover prices, too…by also using older designs (see Rogue Select and Captiva Sport)

          I’m curious as to how the company will manage to deliver a product in that pricing arena with an all-new architecture.

  • avatar

    “That’s right — say goodbye to the slow-selling Dodge Dart, which gets booted from Belvidere Assembly in two months to make room for Jeep Cherokee production starting in 2017. FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne plans to outsource production of small cars to another automaker, but so far, no takers have stepped up to fulfill his dream.”

    you’re going to kill off a product with no replacement for at least three years; so what are you going to do if gas prices spike next year and people stop buying Jeeps?

    • 0 avatar

      They’ll probably buy smaller Jeeps instead, if anything. We’re not talking about the difference between a car and a BOF SUV when it comes to mileage, you may see Wrangler shoppers switch to Renegades and Cherokees if they aren’t serious off-roaders. But it won’t be the end of the world.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not actually sure that part of the report is correct, I seem to recall that they extended them thru the 2017 model year while the replacement comes out in 2018 or 2019. There is enough room it seems to squeeze something between the cherokee and renegade and it’s now being reported the cherokee may grow a little in it’s next gen. But the real test will be if they can make the new compatriot still be a best value in the market because that’s what drives the sales now.

  • avatar

    This makes a lot of sense. Frankly, Chrysler has always been bad at small cars. Fiat seems to be OK with SOME small cars, but others not so much (the 500L was an interesting car except for being ugly). I’m not sure their C and D class cars from Europe could successfully transition here, but frankly the compact and midsize sedan is a repidly shrinking market, and one has to seriously question how much effort the segment is worth versus equivalent CUVs…which FCA does really well with.

    I think this is the right move, and I think we may see other manufacturers start to de-emphasize their traditional car lines, by eliminating unpopular models and taking traditionally seperate models and combining them (I see GM combining the Malibu and Impala at some point, and I’m not sure how much longer Ford will keep the Taurus around).

    • 0 avatar

      Honestly, it’s not so much that _BLANK_ is ‘bad’ at small cars, it’s that an overwhelming number of US Buyers over 30 still associate ‘small car’ with ‘penalty box.’

      The Focus and Fiesta are FANTASTIC cars, and are way more appropriate for most sane buyers who don’t buy cars with fantasies of hauling horse trailers and plywood, but Ford saw car sales drop and Truck sales ratchet up… again…

      At this point, as a US manufacturer you’re being irresponsible if you don’t focus on the momwagen market at the cost of your small and midsize stuff. Fuel targets don’t mean shit here if you can build a 2.5 ton block with a 1.xL turbo 4 and a CVT that aces the test without cheating. Why try to fight the market?

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    For perspective, the Dart will probably sell 50k copies this year.

    The past three years have been mid-80k volume each.

    Not terrible numbers by themselves, but near the bottom in its class, and I think it points to how desperate FCA is to increase its margins by selling more-profitable Jeeps.

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