As of September 2016, the Dodge Dart no longer rolls off Chrysler’s Belvidere, Ill., assembly line.
After producing only five years’ worth of the modern-era Dart, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) announced last January that they would discontinue the model due to lack of consumer interest. Thanks to lower gas prices, auto buyers have been turning away from more fuel-efficient sedans like the Dart and flocking toward Chrysler’s Jeep SUV and Ram truck models instead.
In addition to their high popularity with consumers, SUVs and trucks bring higher profit margins than do the smaller sedans.
FCA’s plants in Michigan and Illinois will no longer manufacture either the Dart or the Chrysler 200, but will instead turn their attention to the more popular Jeep Cherokee SUV and the Ram 1500 truck. At a cost of nearly $1.5 billion, FCA plans to begin to produce the Ram 1500 by 2018 at a newly-renovated Sterling Heights, Mich., plant.
The company will also move its Jeep Cherokee production from Toledo, Ohio, to Belvidere. The Jeep Wrangler production will then shift to Toledo. FCA claims the changes will add 1,000 new jobs. The end of the Dart and Chrysler 200 models will also mark the end of FCA’s passenger car production in the U.S. Because of the lower cost of production in Mexico, the company’s passenger cars will subsequently be manufactured in the U.S.’s neighbor to the south.
The Rise and Fall of the Dart
Auto buffs will remember the original Dodge Dart, which was introduced as a full-size car in 1960 and diminished in size to a compact in 1962. The classic Dart’s final year on the North American market was 1976.
In January 2012, FCA introduced the contemporary Dart, a four-door compact sedan, at Detroit’s North American International Auto Show. It was Dodge’s first compact model since FCA discontinued the Neon in 2005.
Costing $1 billion, FCA designed the Dart’s modified compact platform, which lengthened the Fiat compact platform by over 3.5 inches and widened it by 1.5 inches. The first modern-era Dart to roll off the assembly line was a Rallye that sported a Redline Red exterior and black and red interior. TV marketing for the Dart began in a July 2012 ad with a cameo appearance by Tom Brady. The commercial was initially broadcast during the Major-League Baseball All-Star game.
There were five different models of the contemporary Dodge Dart. Even the base model, the SE, offered such appealing features as cloth heating surfaces and 16-inch covered steel wheels. The next step of the Dart was the SXT, which featured 17-inch covered steel wheels, air conditioning and keyless entry. The highly fuel-efficient Aero featured a lowered profile, active grille shutters and low-rolling resistance tires.
Dart’s luxury model, the Limited, was equipped with 18-inch chrome wheels and accents and SIRIUS-XM satellite radio. The other high-end Dart model, the GT, featured lightweight 18-inch alloy wheels and leather color schemes.
The Dart was no stranger to recognition in the auto industry. It was the first compact sedan to offer blind-spot monitoring and a rear obstacle detection feature. Green Car Journal placed the Dart in the top five for its 2013 Green Car of the Year Awards. In 2012, the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) chose the Dart as Top Safety pick and gave the vehicle a five-star safety rating in 2013.
There is a glimmer of hope for consumers who admire the Dart for all its accolades and hate to see it leave the market. FCA’s CEO, Sergio Marchionne, has hinted that the company is searching for a business partner that might be interested in collaborating with them to continue to produce both the Dart and Chrysler 200.