End of the line: why the Dodge Dart dropped so quickly

by David Zatz

The last week of September 2016 was also the last week of production for the 2013-16 Dodge Dart; it saw around three and a half years of full production in the US, and will continue on, though not in North America, in Fiat Viaggio form.

last 2016 Dodge Dart

Why did the Dart fail? Some said that the image was too far from the 1960s-1970s Darts and, for that matter, from the new Dodge image of Charger/Challenger/Viper muscle. There was no shortage of theories in magazines and forums:

  • The car could have been too big, which hurt acceleration and mileage alike.
  • Early cars only came with quirky Fiat powertrains and transmissions.
  • None of the powertrains were as sporty as the most rivals. The GT came late, and the SRT never arrived.
  • Front styling didn’t stand out.
  • The car was not the fastest, most economical, most comfortable, most reliable, or most “anything” in a hotly contested market.

2013 orange dart

Some say the car should have been based on the “Small” platform, (not yet fully developed), and others said the C-EVO dimensions should not have been changed for the US. Either path would have brought a lighter car. Chrysler put a lot of money into making it handle quite well, but the market didn’t seem to value handling, at least not without better acceleration.

Most recaps agreed that the marketing was off the mark. The early brochures and press releases noted “Alfa Romeo DNA” and “Dodge Charger styling,” neither of which seemed relevant.

small dodge dart

Dealers shoved the early cars in the back, out of sight, because they only had manual transmissions. The “stick approach” could have appealed to enthusiasts and import buyers, and garnered the best numbers in reviews, but it backfired, partly because the dealers didn’t think they could sell sticks. Perhaps the press fleets should have been manual-only and the dealer lots filled with automatics? Regardless, the quirky engines and DDCTs turned off critics and potential buyers. The 2.4-stick combination could have been a better starter; it really needed a 2-liter turbo, but none showed up even into the end of 2016.

US compact car sales started dropping as Darts arrived. There’s little FCA could have done about that.

Many will mourn the passing of the Dart name, and the opportunity — there will probably not be another US-engineered compact front-drive Dodge sedan (or hatchback). The most likely replacement is the Mexican Dodge Neon, designed by Fiat, built in Turkey.

We are memorializing the Dart in our own way — with an updated long-term review and by telling the story of the final Dodge Dart — the last one made.

Other thoughts

Colorado74 wrote:

As a dealer, this car was a complex mess to order. You had a Rallye with a SXT group, an SXT group with a Rallye package, a Limited with a Rallye Package, and so on. At one point, there were 27 CPOS [Customer-Preferred Option Package] packages that had no real rhyme or reason. Sometimes, the only difference was a body colored door handle.

dart at dealer

To spec, order and dealer locate, it was really maddening. When everyone else had four models to choose from, the Dart had 27. My customers really wanted the high fuel economy Aero, but in 2014 they dropped all but four colors that you could order it in — black, silver, gray, or white. Midyear, they offered a dark blue.

Then, as the last piece of firewood was removed from the Dart’s fire, they made the standard engine on all but SE and Aero the 2.4L automatic, that could only get 29 MPG. Everything, including the Charger's 31 mpg, could beat it. Even the Cherokee and Ram 1500 HFE can beat it. That really removed all of the “why buys.” Seems to me that it was doomed from 2014.

 

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