Can the coattails of Fast & Furious 6 and its young, devoted male fans give a boost to Dodge Dart sales?
Chrysler Group is counting on it.
The Dart doesn't have a role in the action-thriller opening nationwide on Friday, but Dodge is betting a Fast & Furious-like commercial and other marketing ties with the movie will raise awareness for the compact car.
The Dart is off to a slow start since it debuted in June, although April was the compact sedan's best month: 8,099 sales.
Dart volume was hampered initially because most early-run vehicles had manual transmissions. Dave Sullivan, an analyst at AutoPacific Inc., said Dodge was losing about 95 percent of potential Dart sales because it couldn't offer an automatic transmission.
The Dart is Chrysler's first bona fide compact car since the Neon was dropped in 2005. It has received generally positive reviews, though some reviewers have dinged the car's performance.
But it competes in one of the industry's most competitive segments dominated by the Toyota Corolla/Matrix, Honda Civic, VW Jetta, Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus and Chevrolet Cruze.
With U.S. sales of 31,064 through April, the Dart ranks ninth out of 19 compact cars. The Toyota Corolla and Matrix top the segment with sales of 104,517, followed by the Civic, Focus, Elantra, Cruze and Jetta.
Don Lee, president of Lee Auto Malls, said Dart deliveries have been modest at his two Maine dealerships.
For many buyers looking for a car in the Dart's price range, the mid-sized Dodge Avenger has been more attractive because of rebates that lower the final purchase price, Lee said.
"The Dart is a great car, the quality is great. They just need to put a little money on the hood and it will sell," Lee said.
Dart marketing has targeted two key consumer groups: young professionals buying their first car and baby boomers re-entering the compact car segment who are interested in low price and mid-sized roominess, Chrysler says.
On that score, Dart is performing well by drawing younger, mostly male consumers with higher incomes than typical buyers in the segment, according to Strategic Vision.
The Dart's average transaction price -- $21,853 -- also is higher than that of most rivals, including the Jetta, $21,194; Focus, $20,988; Cruze $20,417; Civic $19,674; Kia Forte, $19,010 and Corolla, $18,635, according to Edmunds.com.
Sullivan said the Dart, the first car engineered for Chrysler Group under the Chrysler-Fiat alliance, might be priced higher than the competition but added that it offers a lot of technology and features.