Some darts are being thrown at the new Dodge Dart for allegedly stumbling into the marketplace during what should have been a grand entrance.
has ballyhooed the car and it received early good reviews, including taking an award for one of WardsAuto’s 10 Best Interiors.
But some published reports rap slow Dart sales out of the gate. Only about 1,000 were delivered in June and July, according to WardsAuto data. But that dismally low figure is a bit misleading because during that span, dealers didn’t have many Darts to sell, and most of the early ones had manual transmissions.
August sales hit a healthier 3,000 units.says it wasn’t expecting an early explosion of sales anyways but expects the Dart will do well in the long run.
But many of the early ones just sat. Usually, there are at least a few people anxious to buy the first-made models. I suspect that is what Chrysler was hoping for.
As a former general manager of a Chrysler dealership, I can tell you that the auto maker has a pattern of overly high hopes for car launches.
When the company first introduced the K-cars in the early 1980s, then-Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca thought he could take advantage of all the built-up hype.
Ultimately the compact special-K cars had a good run, but the first ones dealers got were too loaded up. Dealers had a hard time selling them.
I recall the first one I received had a sticker price of $10,400. That was outrageous in that day for a small car. Soon enough, we got the rebates. They even re-priced the first cars and sent new window stickers.
How could Chrysler botch the critical launch of the Dart? The car is beautiful. Driving dynamics are wonderful, based on a European Alfa Romeo chassis. Fuel economy is world-class for its segment.
The Dart revives a successful model name from the past and features the innovative-developed Multi-Air technology on two of its engines.
Multi Air, a unique valve-lift system, and the Alpha Romeo chassis are part of the technology package thattraded for stock in the Chrysler rescue of 2009, which has resulted in Fiat emerging as Chrysler’s primary owner.
The car exudes Italian panache. It’s not a Ferrari, but for an economical 4-door small sedan, it’s impressive.
The Dart is made in Belvedere, IL. That is supposed to prove Chrysler can build compact cars profitably in the U.S. with union labor.
Bringing a fuel efficient vehicle to market using Fiat technology was among the stipulations agreed to in the U.S. government bailout of Chrysler.
The new Dart starts at $19,995, but a consumer would be challenged to find one at that price. We’ve seen sticker prices between $22,000 and $24,000 for loaded-up cars with 6-speed manual transmissions. If that keeps up, it may be necessary to haul out the massive rebates.
At least the manual shift lever was topped by a quality-looking machined aluminum ball.
That sticker price is a tough nut to crack compared with other vehicles in this very competitive segment, cars such as theCivic, Toyota Corolla, Focus, Mazda3, Chevrolet Cruze, Elantra, VW Jetta and Kia Optima.
I wandered into a Kia showroom and found a larger, stylish and well-equipped Optima with automatic transmission for about $22,000. The Dodge Dart is cool, but the Optima is a formidable competitor.
Chrysler sending pricey Darts with manual transmissions to dealers makes one wonder if the production and marketing people talk to each other.
I couldn’t get a Dodge dealer willing to go on record, but let’s just say they are less than happy with the imperfect launch of a perfectly fine car.
David Ruggles is an auto consultant and former dealership general manager. He can be reached at Ruggles@msn.com.