Earlier this year, Fiat Chrysler announced it would kill off the Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200 in order to focus on selling more trucks and SUVs. FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne believes the consumer shift away from cars and sedans is “permanent,” and has turned his company’s attention entirely towards larger offerings, but as Automotive News points out, the Dart was conceived at a time when FCA had a lack compact cars.
Before the automotive industry crash in 2008, Chrysler’s lineup was full of pickup trucks, SUVs and minivans. Soaring fuel prices created a new-found interest in fuel economy among consumers and Chrysler, with almost no true compact cars to offer, saw its sales tank.
When the U.S. government bailed Chrysler out of bankruptcy in 2009, it made the automaker agree to build a 40 MPG car in the U.S. The Dart satisfied this requirement, but that would be about the only success the doomed four-door ever achieved.
Its poor performance in the marketplace was helped along by an entirely botched launch. FCA’s nine-speed ZF automatic transmission wasn’t ready in time for the Dart’s arrival, so it sourced Hyundai a six-speed automatic and Fiat dual-clutch automatic at the last minute.
Worse was that neither of those automatics were immediately available upon the Dart’s launch, so many of the first cars to arrive at lots were manuals. This meant many customers couldn’t test drive the cars and not surprisingly, sales figures reflected this. According to AN data, just 25,304 Darts were sold in 2012.
Marchionne adressed the Dart’s poor performance in the marketplace at the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, saying the powertrain lineup offered in the car at launch was “not the ideal solution.” The compact car’s sales experienced a mild upswing in 2015 when Dodge began offering lease incentives, but once the deals were no longer being offered, the customers disappeared.
FCA is currently looking for a partner to produce a replacement for the Dart and its larger platform mate, the Chrysler 200. The automaker needs every last inch of its production capacity to build more Rams and Jeeps, so a replacement sedan would have to be built at a factory belonging to an outside company. An announcement may not be far out, with Marchionne telling AN he’ll “have an answer hopefully soon.”