Why the Dodge Dart Has a Long Way to Go

Dodge_Dart

Dodge sold just 7,154 Dart sedans in January — better than December 2012, but a shabby performance when you consider that Honda moved 21,881 Civics, Ford sold 16,161 Focuses and Toyota moved 23,822 Corollas and Matrixes. Dodge dealers opened January with a glut of Darts — 141 days' worth, to be exact. That's more than double the days' supply for the Chevrolet Cruze and more than triple the supply of the Civic and Focus.

January marks the seventh full month of Dart sales, and it's been a slow start for the compact sedan. The Wall Street Journal reports Dodge parent Chrysler cut a factory shift at its facility in Dundee, Mich., which makes one of the Dart's engines, due to slow sales. At January's North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Chrysler-Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne admitted that the Dart's dual-clutch automatic transmission and high mix of stick-shift cars at launch reflected "powertrain solutions that, in today's world and in hindsight, were not and are not the ideal solution."

The drivetrains don't help, but there may be another factor in play: Dodge's compact sedan is only that — a sedan. Compact cars offer the most diverse body styles. The Corolla has a Matrix offshoot, the Civic comes as a sedan or coupe, the Focus and Mazda3 include a hatchback and sedan, and the Hyundai Elantra scores a trifecta: sedan, coupe and hatch.

This diversity can pay dividends. Honda says one in five Civic sales is a coupe, and Hyundai says 25% of Elantras sold are coupes or hatchbacks. Ford says four in 10 Focuses sold are hatchbacks.

Then again, diversity might not pay off. Toyota says 99% of Corolla or Matrix buyers are buying, well, a Corolla. And a sedan-only strategy didn't stop the Cruze from notching a healthy 14,524 sales in January. Chrysler points out that 85% of compact-car sales are sedans, and the Dart comes in more than 10,000 configurations — "distinct personalities" that should "appeal to those different segmentations," one spokesperson tells us.

Tom Libby, lead analyst for North American forecasting at Polk, agrees. Body styles aren't the issue; something else is.

"With just one body type, you can frankly get very close to a [sales] total that's achieved by two body types," Libby said. "You may lose a few buyers, but I don't see it as significant."

The problem for Dodge, Libby said, is brand equity. There are 5.1 million Civics and 4.6 million Corollas on the road right now, according to Polk. Even the Focus, which didn't show up until late 1999, accounts for 2.3 million cars. Among the top 10 non-luxury compact cars in operation, none are from Dodge.

"Dodge traditionally had not as strong a position in the compact car market as its two domestic competitors, and so they're forced conquest owners of these competitors," he said. "People don't normally associate Dodge with small cars. … Most people would say, 'Oh, they make pickups and they make minivans.' "

Dodge hopes to change that. January marked the Dart's best sales month since it hit the market last June. Marchionne said last month the Dart will get more powertrain options, possibly including a nine-speed automatic transmission. It could help vault EPA highway gas mileage well beyond the car's current 34 to 41 mpg.

It will be a slow climb, though.

"They have to do this inch by inch," Libby said. "It's not going to happen overnight. They have to hang in there."

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Comments 

d

Avis needs cars too....

sheth

why would Dart's sales rank be a shock? Its basically a new nameplate competing against established players. sales have been trending up which is a good thing for Dodge but it will take years for the Dart to even achieve the level of success of the elantra or Cruze. Dodge had to start somewhere and its a little early to be judging the car so harshly, it hasnt even had a year on the market. Considering Dodge has had ZERO presence in this segment for the last 7-8 years the dart's performance isn't too bad.

Tony

I didn't like it a bit

Peppy

One of the other issues with the Dart, is the Avenger. I've heard a lot of people walking into the Dodge dealerships to look and buy a Dart but end up buying the slightly larger but heavily discounted Avenger, thus the Avenger sales have risen considerably but at the expense of the Darts.

Steve

I think if a newly designed car is really that good, it should sell itself. When I think of quality, sorry but Dodge or Fiat does not come to mind. Too much so-called technology all at once scares some people (like me). If these cars get good consumer reviews a year from now, they might have a winner. If they are like other Dodge vehicles I've known, I can understand why they would be worried. Give Toyota/Honda credit. Lots of people keep buying and buying them. Must be doing something right.

Kj

I would never buy a Dart because it reminds me of the Dodge Neon and other past crap Dodge was selling. Sorry Dodge but you had many chances with offering a reliable car and you screwed it up.

Tony

I am wondering how this car can sell in general? Did anyone tried it?

JJJR

I bought an Elantra when they changed to the new model in 2011. I later looked at the Dart to see if I made a mistake, guess not. In my opinion unlike the Elantra it looks very cheaply made. Maybe others have the same impression?

Chris

Some of it could be $. Toyota is offering 0% for 60 on Corrolla. Though it is supposed to be a little stale at this point, it still has its reputation and the attractive rates might prevent buyers from straying. Think Honda is offering .9%, also cheaper than Dodge's best offer on Dart.

Soakee

The only way I would consider (looking at) a Dart would be the R/T version which last time I checked, has been delayed seemingly indefintely. If I needed a small four-door car right now, there are better choices elsewhere.

sheth

@peppy:

Good point. The Avenger is close in size and price to the Dart and there are probably good incentives on Avenger right now. Once Avenger goes out of production this year Im sure Dart sales will benefit. I believe only the 200 is being replaced.

@chris:

another good point, comparing sales without regard to incentives is a one sided affair. Corolla is only moving in high volumes based on price and deals. It is clearly in the bottom rung of compacts but a strong rep and 0% financing will go a long way towards driving sales. Corolla gets praised for topping the charts with no mention of incentives but if it were a Chevy or Ford the FIRST thing mentioned would be how the sales are being propped up with deals. Look at the Silverado, the only way a dated pickup posts a huge gain in sales like it did in January is based on cash on the hood.

@JJR:

I didnt see anything notably deficient about the Dart interior. I find that the interiors of most Hyundai/Kia models LOOK much better in pictures than they do in person. The Elantra has a nice interior design but its materials are no better than Dart or anything else in the class. I think the Cruze and Focus have the nicest interiors in the compact segment. I was in the "new" civic at the auto show and it doesn't seem any nicer than before- just more chrome trim.

GregK

The domestics (Dodge included) also have the problem that they continually change the name of their models. People know what a Civic is, they know what a Corolla is, they know what a Sentra is. Stability for what - 20 or 30 years? But Cavalier goes to Cobalt goes to Cruze, etc. Domestics always seem like they are trying to trick the customer into buying their latest incarnation. It seems that Ford may have seen the light as well, with Focus being a stable brand after replacing Escort.

sheth

i dont think changing names can be proven to really have a major impact on what is sold. The names were changed in most cases because the products weren't that great in the first place. Regardless of what this car is called the fact is that its going to take years for Dodge to build up brand equity. All things considered its sales aren't too bad.

Alan

Anyone who has had Chrysler products knows that transmissions go out at 35,000 miles, electrical problems spark up at 37,000 miles, and head gasket, oil leaks and a/c failures are to be expected repeatedly. Previous Chrysler owners are not in a hurry to chance their luck on a Dart.
To make matters worse, does anyone remember what FIAT really stands for?
Fix It Again Tony!
Can you imagine what the resale value on these things are if they can't even sell them new?
I'll take a Civic or Sentra thanks.

Tony

Alan... I'll even take the Corolla. I'll sacrifice driving experience for reliability.
I wouldn't expect anything good from Fiat, Daewoo, Opel - derived cars. Yes, Dart, Cruze, etc...

Steve

Dart = ZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Larry

I rented a dart and was not impressed at all. The head lights on high beam are terrible,the gas mileage leaves a lot to be desired,no automatically headlights,there is a lag between shifts in thetranny that drove me crazy. Overall I was very dissatisfied and will not be the market.for a dart.

ramtough

I think the main issue with the darts sales is people like me think the old sub compact muscle car and they introduce a economy car with the same badge instead of calling it a dart II and reving the original dart and thats pure american muscle. Dont mess with a classic name badge that held the best v8's of the time period unless your gonna make it a modern version rearwheel drive with a v6 or v8

brent nelson

hi i have a new dart it is a awsome car This car rides awsome not like a pork and bean can that the other small cars feel like. I do not care what people say about dodge cars falling apart. All car makers make bad cars if not there is no need for car dealers to have a shop! I would buy a dart again, Go test drive other makes and check out there options the ride the oval all package dart wins hands down. Do not buy a car bacause what others say, Do your home work like i did!


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