Will new Dodge Dart put Chrysler in top gear?
The reinvention of the iconic car is the first creation with truly integrated Chrysler and Fiat technologies.
Chrysler was already sputtering when the financial crisis hit, and the Great Recession caused the automaker to break down entirely. Only a partnership forged with Italy's Fiat allowed the once-great automaker to survive bankruptcy in 2009.
Merging the car companies has been slow and sometimes painful for both sides. However, American motorists will have their first real chance to explore what the Chrysler-Fiat partnership can offer with a blast from the past: a sleek redesign of the iconic Dodge Dart compact.
It is the first true test of shared platforms and technology. But will it sell?
The reinvented Dart compact debuted at the Detroit auto show Monday. The model shares little with its predecessor from the 1960s and '70s aside from the name -- it is sleek, compact and fuel-efficient, with an estimated 40 mpg.
The popular nameplate will help connect with consumers, as will the Alfa Romeo frame that inspired the Dart and is expected to make the car a fun drive. It also helps that Chrysler has managed to push itself back into the marketplace with some force in 2011. Chrysler Group brands Jeep, Ram and Dodge managed to score a stunning 80% year-over-year sales gain in December. A refreshed Chrysler 300 helped lead that charge.
The balance sheet is coming together, too, with Chrysler raising its full-year fiscal 2011 forecasts after swinging to a profit in the third quarter. The company is poised to report its first annual profit since 1997 in the year ahead.
The harsh reality, however, is that the gains made by Chrysler group outside of the Chrysler 300 have come largely from traditional segments -- gas-guzzling SUVs and trucks. The corporation doesn't have a flashy electric vehicle like the Chevy Volt from General Motors (GM). It doesn't have a wildly popular hybrid like the Toyota (TM) Prius.
The fact is the Dart is a crucial test for Chrysler because without it, the company will remain an also-ran in the small-vehicle market, which represents about 15% of total domestic auto sales. Chrysler hasn't had a decent compact since the Dodge Neon, and the growth of the small-car segment amid higher gas prices and weak consumer spending means this is an opportunity that needs to be seized.
Case in point: Chrysler's current compact, the Caliber, sold only 35,000 last year, compared with sales of 240,000 for the Toyota Corolla. The Corolla and its twin the Matrix combined to come in No. 8 on the list of the 10 best-selling cars of 2011, too, proving that a dominant compact is a big mover.
Rivals like Honda (HMC) and its Civic also have a dominant position in the small-car market. Ford (F) has been turning heads with its own European-influenced compact, the Focus. And up-and-comers like Hyundai are making sturdy progress, with the Elantra recently earning North American car of the year.
Worse than those numbers is the fact that compacts are considered "starter cars" for many drivers. If young, first-time buyers have a good experience, they could stick with the brand for years.
Chrysler hopes that kind of brand loyalty will help give the Dart a leg up with the nostalgic nameplate. But a name can take the automaker only so far in a crowded market.
And let's not forget that brand power can swing both ways. If this initial brainchild of the Fiat-Chrysler partnership falls flat, it could sour drivers on future offerings from the company for some time.
Jeff Reeves is the editor of InvestorPlace.com. Write him at email@example.com, follow him on Twitter via @JeffReevesIP and become a fan of InvestorPlace on Facebook. Jeff Reeves holds a position in Alcoa, but no other publicly traded stocks.
Who the hell are people hiring these days.
I am a 100% pure Mopar guy but the original Darts did not look good enough or even have a look that if reproduced would be considered retro. The Dart was for the most part an economy car in its day. Some of them got performance motors in them but they were still an economy car.
No big deal calling the new car a Dart. I like it and will most likely sell off my 2011 Avenger to get one with the six speed manual. Had two Neons that I went well over 150,000 with and will be happy to do the same with a new Dart.
The original dart was intended to be an entry level vehicle. That's what this new car is supposed to be. I'd say they're both very good at serving their intended purpose. After reading some of the comments I think people overlooking this and are expecting too much. It starts at around $15,500. Don't expect performance and luxury of a $38,000 car. I would say it's competition would be Focus, Fiesta, Cruze, Sonic, and those dumb imports from Kia, Hyundai, etc.
My mom had a 63 Dodge Dart. She took my brother and I on our first camping trip to Yosemite Nat'l Park in 1965. My mom knew nothing about camping, but she threw everything she thought we may need into the trunk of the the Dart; including the electric skillet! Who would think the Housekeeping Tents at Yosemite would not have electricity
It was a great car! Lot's of good memories. Who needs a muscle car? We had the 57 Chevy for that!
My first new car was a 1969 Dart Swinger; deep mettalic green, black vinyl top, black "Bumblebee" stripe around the trunk, wide oval tires (that the power plant would smoke through the 1st 2 gears), rolled & pleated interior. Under the hood was a 340cu. in. V-8 (4-barrel carb) coupled to a torqueflight auto trans.
It looked sharp and ran like a "bat outa' he*****"
I don't hink a Fiat cop-out will measure up to this.
Old Darts are neat. That said,
@rrrracing The 2004-2006 GTO(Monaro) was not supposed to bring back the look of it's namesake just as the original Pontiac GTO looked nothing like the "real" GTO (Ferrari).
-Biased 2006 Torrid Red GTO owner with a little bottle in the trunk for the strip.
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