Anticipation has been heavy for the success of the new Dodge Dart, the Illinois-built compact car that represents the first complete-vehicle collaboration between Chrysler and its new Fiat parent. The just-launched model has been saddled with hopes and responsibilities ranging from reestablishment of Chrysler's design chops to re-ignition of the company's hopes in a small-car market where it hasn't excelled for a long time.
But all of that has been delayed, at least, by Dart's slow start out of the gate, according to the Wall Street Journal. Noting that Chrysler sold fewer than 1,000 Darts in the car's first two months in dealer showrooms, June and July, the newspaper blamed Chrysler, in part, for producing many more manual-transmission Darts than the market requires.
An increasing number in the auto industry are talking about stick shifts these days, as a way to entice financially strapped Millennials into purchasing automobiles. In mainstream product segments, stick shifts are less expensive to manufacture, purchase, drive and insure. (Of course it's an entirely different market for stick shifts in pricey luxury makes, where they're provided for driving feel.)
Chrysler began emphasizing stick-shift Darts to get the factory ramped up, Reid Bigland, the Dodge brand's chief executive, told the Journal. Now, he said, the plant in Belvedere, Ill., is building 70-percent automatic-transmission cars, much closer to what the full-volume market demand will be.
American consumers awaiting Dart should be patient until the one equipped as they want becomes available. Buzz for the new model has been mostly positive. For example, KBB.com just ranked Dart No. 1 on its list of "10 Coolest Cars Under $18,000" because of its "enticing combination of style, performance, features and value" including "exceptional interior space and loads of personalization."
Still, Dart is emerging into a highly competitive segment stacked with rival nameplates including Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra. In that arena, Chrysler doesn't want to keep eager Dart buyers waiting for anything.