Grab a slice of cake and a silly hat – because we’re throwing a party to celebrate the (U.S. sales) birthday of the Dodge Dart. Last month marked the first year for the new Dodge Dart in the US market.
Party Guest 1: She's cute, but she doesn't move much.
Party Guest 2: I think she's just now learning to crawl.
For those of you that don’t have kids and are asking yourself if not crawling at one year old is good or bad– it’s bad. Well, maybe not bad, but definitely not the norm. After one year your child should be trying to stand up if not walk.
Similarly, after a year on the market, a subcompact should be close to full volume or at least showing signs of steady growth.
As you can see from the graph sales of the Dodge Dart have started to decline which is bad. This decline could result in more aggressive incentives, more marketing or nothing at all.
In my article over on Autobytel I attempt to highlight one reason why the Dart might be struggling - brand. Keep in mind this is a case study of one, me, so the results are limited to my impressions, observations and subjective opinion.
For the past 10 years Dodge was a truck and big-cars brand; at least that the perception I have of the brand. It stood for bold, brash, American muscle and heft.
While it is true that Dodge offered subcompacts over the years like Shadow, Lancer, Neon, Caliber, etc. their other offerings like Ram, Viper and Charger are what defined the brand we see today.
Looking at the current lineup of vehicles above – how would you market a front-wheel-drive euro-handling subcompact within a brand that consists of; an aging but popular minivan, a 7 passenger SUV that suffers from a Dart-like it’s-good-but-not-selling problem, an underrated V6-powered sedan and a CUV that competes presumably on price alone.
Two nights ago I talked to a Sales Manager at a local Chrysler dealership about the Dart and he shared with me his theory on why it isn’t doing very well.
He said buyers come in his store curious about the Dart and once they start going over trims they get a Sudoku'd puzzle look on their face. He said he’s seen people get physically frustrated and confused trying to understand the various trims.
While his story may be a little exaggerated, the trims confuse me a bit too.
Not only are Dart sales slowing but few dealers (I talked to more than one) had anything positive to say about them.
Its ironic the sales guys brought up trims as Dodge will soon release another trim for Dart - GT; a heavier, super-fully-loaded Dart with suspension tweaks and fuel economy worse than a V6-powered Chrysler 300.
This Dart, like the other Dart trims, will lack the 9-speed transmission that Chrysler's CEO promises is the key to making this car great.
No, the Dart isn't dead
I’m not forecasting the death of Dart, and I’m certainly not jumping on the Dodge-is-dead ship...at least not yet. I'm simply pointing out that sales of the first all-new vehicle in the Dodge lineup under the guise of Fiat doesn't appear to be doing very well.
Maybe the Dart is right where Dodge wants it to be. Maybe the plan all along was to move 60-70k units of Dart a year in the U.S. If that was the plan, well the brand nailed it. Pop the bubbly and celebrate.
If that wasn’t the plan, the brands needs to reach deep into their marketing bag of tricks and pull out something besides a promises of a 9-speed transmission that will cure all Dart's aliments.
If sales of Dart continue at their current rate, or worse decline even further, Dart could become the most competitive, competent and good-looking mass-produced automotive flop ever built.
Which is sad because the Dodge Dart really is a good little car.