Happy Birthday Dart
Last month marked the one-year anniversary of the Dodge Dart in the US market.
How's it doing thus far? That really depends on what goals Dodge set for the subcompact its first year. If they intended to sell less than 70,000 units - then it is right where it should be. If the goal was higher than that then the Dart is doing that great. Just recently the Dart saw back-to-back months of declining sales. In June Dart sales fell 13% and in May they were down 7%.
Visually the Dart is very pleasing and its driving dynamics outdo many of its competitors. The Dart launched with brilliant buzz-worthy advertising and on paper it’s a better car than the Chevrolet Cruze, yet in June the Cruze outsold the Dart five-to-one.
The Dart just isn’t selling.
This graph shows how the Dart and the Cruze performed after their first year in the US market. At the bottom is a month-by-month account of Dart sales in the US.
While both cars were new domestic offerings in the U.S. subcompact segment, the Cruze was an all-new nameplate whereas the Dart was a revived nameplate from 37 years ago.
Let’s look back a few years at the sales performance of the predecessors to the two cars in the graphic.
In 2006 Dodge replaced the Neon with the Caliber – a boxy hatchback that sold 101,097 units its first full year (2007). In that same year Chrysler also sold 99,850 PT Cruisers. In 2007 the Chrysler group subcompact segment consisted of the Dodge Caliber and the PT Cruiser.
While the brand may have been moving metal, the quality of the products, especially anything entry-level, was on par with something you'd find in a Toys R' Us.
Happy Birthday Dart
Automakers started investing and putting a stronger focus on the quality and offerings in their subcompact segments as the recession and higher fuel prices were driving consumers to smaller and more economical cars. And because many of these buyers were coming from higher-end vehicles they brought with them an expectation of vehicle content.
This was the beginning of the race to the fully loaded subcompact. This movement gave rise to almost silly-like options such as rear heated seats and autonomous parking in cars like the Hyundai Elantra and Ford Focus.
After Chrysler’s acquisition by Fiat plans were put into motion to revamp the entire lineup, to include Dodge. The culmination of those efforts are showing up in products like the new Jeep Grand Cherokee, Ram 1500 and Dodge Dart.
But if the Dart is better than its predecessors - why isn’t it selling better?
One theory is that the current Dodge brand just doesn’t project the small car image.
Dodge hopes it can resuscitate its subcompact status by appealing to new buyers, but the reality is the segment has grown more competitive and the Dart showed up after the music had stopped and buyers had all found their new 'amazing' supcompact.
The creative ads behind Dart were fun, entertaining and highly shareable, yet the sales are where the rubber meets the road. It would appear that Americans just don't seem interested in a subcompact from a brand known for big, rear wheel-drive sedans and trucks.
I'm aware that Ram Trucks is a seperate brand, but tell that to the people who to this day call it a Dodge Truck.
This is just one theory for why Dart sales have stalled.
And if sales continue at this 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 that Dart is really a good little car.