Dodge is reaching into the past to save its future. It’s bringing back the Dart name and attaching it to a new compact that the company hopes will appeal both to millennials and empty nesters.
Interestingly, both the new Dart and the old Dart share more than just a name. The old Dart was responsible for giving Dodge it’s first chunk of the compact car market, and they’re hoping the new Dart can do the same. The Dart name had been used on full-sized cars in 1960 and 61. In 62, it shrunk to a mid-sized car. In 63, the Dart most people remember finally arrived and started eating into the compact market. The Chevy II and the Ford Falcon ruled compact world that year with each selling more than 300,000 cars. Still, the Dart’s 153,000 (together with its cousin, the Plymouth Valiant which sold 225,000) helped establish Dodge as a player. Before the Dart name disappeared in 1976, more than 3.8 million were sold.
While it’s sold everything from Aspens to Neons, in recent years, Dodge had pretty much abandoned the compact world. It’s only entry was the Caliber which looked more like a crossover or wagon. Since sedans make up 85% of the compact market, Dodge was missing out.
Enter the 2013 Dart. It’s the first true child of the Chrysler/Fiat marriage. The Dart is based on the Alfa Romeo Giulietta chassis with slightly softened suspension for the American market (we’re apparently not as tough as those Italians). The Dodge folks are bragging about the looks, the mechanicals and the interior. They rave about how it has mid-sized passenger space with a compact outside. There are three engine choices, a 1.4 liter, 2.0 and a 2.4. With a base price starting at $15,995, and fuel mileage averaging between 27 mpg and 32 mpg depending on the model, Dodge is confident the Dart is landing right where it needs to be.
So why reach back and grab the Dart name? Dodge did all the usual market research and came up with two basic conclusions. The empty nesters apparently have fond memories of riding around in Darts (remember the Swinger?). The younger folks know nothing about the original version, they just think the name sounds cool.
I spent about 20 minutes driving two Dart models around and came away feeling that, barring major problems, there’s no reason why the Dart shouldn’t grab its fair share of the compact market.
But then, isn’t a dart supposed to nail the target?
The 2013 Dart just shipped out last week and should hit dealers by Mid-June.