Hanger-on Avenger mars the Dart's start
Larry P. Vellequette covers Chrysler Group for Automotive News.
The Dodge Dart, Chrysler Group's new Fiat-based compact sedan, had its best sales month in December, more than half a year after its debut.
Dealers sold 6,105 Darts, boosting the car's U.S. sales for 2012 to 25,303.
That's not a bad start for a new entry in one of the most competitive market segments. It's even more notable because the Dart hit those numbers with no customer cash incentive until late November and no performance R/T version.
It's not yet quite fair to compare monthly Dart sales with sales of such segment stalwarts as the Ford Focus, Chevy Cruze and Honda Civic. And several Chrysler dealers in recent months have told me that one of the prime factors holding down Dart sales is in their own showrooms: a deeply discounted Dodge Avenger.
The mid-sized Avenger was Dodge's top-selling sedan last month and last year.
Though it is not as refined, fuel-efficient or technologically advanced as the Dart, the Avenger is bigger and has more powerful engine offerings. With consumer rebates that at times knocked $3,500 or more off the Avenger's price, the larger sedan with the older styling may have lured away more than a few potential Dart customers.
The sales situation with the Dart and Avenger is temporary. The Avenger is expected to ride off into the sunset when the replacement for the Chrysler 200 arrives next year. And the Dart soon will get its overdue performance R/T model -- and new powertrain offerings such as a nine-speed automatic transmission -- to boost its competitiveness against other compact sedans.
In short, Dart sales are growing and are likely to continue to grow as the vehicle matures. But like most younger siblings, I don't expect the Dart to hit its full stride until its older brother -- the Avenger -- is out from under the same roof.
You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at firstname.lastname@example.org.