The 2013 Dodge Dart by Merkel Weiss 1/15/12
When it was decided to build and sell the 2012 Fiat 500 in North America, there were case studies prepared to make a good business case for the car's introduction. To this end an initial sales volume was targeted. According to Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne, the sales target was 50,000 units. Where 25K might have been a fairly realistic number for first year sales, we can expect that soon enough there will be a Fiat 500 blowout sale in order to clear the dealerships of leftovers. There really is no alternative here and as a result, all is not happy in the Fiat camp these days.
We should probably be grateful to have the car at all, for as anyone can plainly see, the 500 stands alone in the marketplace having no real competitors in that market niche. The Mini is vastly more upscale car and hence is more expensive, while the Smart is a vastly smaller 2-seat car. The Toyota Yaris 3-door is no longer being sold, replaced by a new larger and more expensive car while the newly introduced IQ is tiny, closer to the Smart in size. In general, microcars do not sell very well in the USA at all. They never did and more than likely never will. The market is limited in size and probably won’t grow very much unless fuel prices rise to somewhere around $6.00 and remain there.
Meanwhile, the other day at the North American Auto Show extravaganza in the fabulous city of Detroit, MI, Chrysler introduced a new model with an old name. This car is special and so I want to take this space to mention how big this appears to be. The car is a bit over 15 feet long and basically replaces the Neon which was a pretty good car in its day. By now you’re probably thinking Dart GT and I have to admit that I am too. The initial offering is a very pretty 4-door unibody built on the flexible Alfa Romeo Giulietta CUSW platform with front wheel drive and choice of 3, 4-cylinder engines. This car has been praised for its vehicle dynamics, and so it won’t take very long for the car rags to test drive it and proclaim that even for a Dodge, this thing drives pretty damned good. This is a very handsome car, undoubtedly the kind of car that Fiat should have brought here to the US before the 500. It is said to get 40mpg as well.
The base engine is a 2 liter, naturally aspirated 160hp unit while the middle option is the 1.4 liter turbocharged engine, sounding for all the world like the driveline from the soon to be released Fiat Abarth 500. The high end engine is a 2.4 liter, turbo with 184hp. A 6-speed manual transmission is said to be available with any engine, while the 6-speed automatic is available only with the two larger engines. To translate this, I think what it means is that Fiat is not planning on supplying an automatic trans with the higher powered Abarth engine. This is probably another mistake on their part, misjudging the skill, competency, and understanding of connectedness of American drivers. I’m confident that there are many like you who are reading this right now who will completely understand and scratch your head as to why manual-only performance cars should be such a mystery and sales enigma to Americans, but at the same time you have to admit that the growth of the manumatic as a thinly disguised automatic has been both staggering and pervasive. Soon we’ll be back where we were in 1975 when automatics had basically taken over some 95% of all sales and it was no longer possible to buy a manual gearbox in almost any American car.
This leads me to wonder yet again why the significantly smaller and lighter Fiat 500 only gets around 34 mpg, and has not benefited from the 47mpg abilities of it’s nearly identical European sibling. The only thing that comes to mind is that perhaps Chrysler engineers fettled with the gearing to the point that fuel economy was greatly compromised. It seems almost impossible to imagine how a 12 foot long minicar weighing only 2363 pounds and equipped with variable valve timing and lift can’t get near 40mpg when it’s Euro-cousins all surpass that. With the Fiat common-rail diesel engine, the Eurocar gets about 62mpg. That sounds more reasonable to me.
No matter, the Dodge Dart is here. I predict that it will be a great success and a fun car to drive. I imagine that there will probably be both a GT and an SRT version.