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Chrysler idles 325 Illinois workers for a week amid slow Dart sales

Since the Dart's introduction, its U.S. sales have topped 8,000 units in a month just twice -- in March and April of 2013. Sluggish sales prompted Chrysler on Monday to temporarily reduce Dart output and idle workers at a plant in Illinois.

Chrysler Group has idled 325 workers at its Belvidere, Ill., assembly plant for a week because of slow sales of the Dodge Dart.

A spokeswoman for the automaker confirmed the layoffs today, saying they were done "in order to balance vehicle supply with current sales demand."

They were implemented Monday across the plant's three shifts. They were reported in the Rockford Register Star newspaper.

The Belvidere plant also builds the Jeep Compass, whose U.S. sales have risen 22 percent this year through February from a year ago, and the Patriot, whose 2014 U.S. sales are up 4 percent through February.

Chrysler reported a 125-day supply of Darts as of March 1, more than twice the ideal amount.

U.S. sales of the Dart have fallen dramatically in recent months. In February, dealers sold 4,888 Darts, down 37 percent from the same month a year earlier. Sales so far this year are a third lower than in the first two months of 2013. Since the Dart's introduction, its sales have topped 8,000 units in a month just twice -- in March and April of 2013.

Chrysler Group CEO Sergio Marchionne has said that the Dart has too much content for the compact car segment and lacks the proper transmission. Dealers have complained that the compact sedan had insufficient profit margins compared with other vehicles in their lineup.

Dart was the first vehicle to be jointly developed by Chrysler and its corporate parent, Fiat. When Chrysler began building the fuel efficient sedan in the United States, Fiat received an additional 5 percent of Chrysler stock from the UAW Voluntary Employees' Beneficiary Association trust.

You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at lvellequette@crain.com -- Follow Larry P. on Twitter: @LarryVellequett

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