The Dodge Dart four-door compact sedan was the first new vehicle created by the combined Fiat and Chrysler companies following the latter’s 2009 bankruptcy and government-backed restructuring.
Based on widened and lengthened underpinnings from a European Fiat model, it came together relatively quickly and launched in 2012 as a 2013 model.
Just four years later, it will die for good in September, going out of production so its assembly plant in Belvidere, Illinois, can be converted to production of the Jeep Cherokee SUV.
Sergio Marchionne, CEO of what is now Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, announced in April that both the Dodge Dart compact sedan and the Chrysler 200 mid-size sedan would be taken out of production to allow FCA to boost production of its more profitable pickup trucks and SUVs.
The company said yesterday that it would invest $1 billion in part of its sprawling Toledo assembly complex in Ohio to build the next-generation Jeep Wrangler, which will be revealed next year.
That’s part of a much broader shuffling of FCA products and plants in North America, including the end of Dart production, as reported by The Detroit News and other outlets.
The Dart never lived up to FCA’s sales hopes for it.
It served another purpose, however: meeting a requirement of the restructuring package that required the company to produce at least one vehicle with an EPA rating of at least 40 miles per gallon highway.
The low-selling Dart Eco model indeed carried that rating, which allowed Fiat to acquire an additional 5% of Chrysler during the process of combining and merging the two entities.
In the ultra-competitive marketplace for compact sedans, the Dart suffered from several challenges.
It followed the unloved Dodge Caliber hatchback, a grim product from the days when Chrysler was owned first by Germany’s Daimler and then by private-equity firm Cerberus Partners.
Many buyers had simply stopped thinking of any Chrysler brands for small cars, the last truly popular one being the Dodge Neon taken out of production in 2005.
The Dart also used no fewer than three engines, some of them paired with European-style dual-clutch direct-shift automatic gearboxes whose low-speed lurches and sudden engagement wasn’t well received by shoppers and buyers.
It was heavy for the category, meaning that the fuel economy ratings of most versions were only average.
And over the last two years, as gasoline prices fell to $2 per gallon in some states and stayed generally low, compact sedans as a category have lost popularity against smaller crossover utility vehicles.
Those include several new entries from FCA’s fast-growing Jeep brand, which Marchionne clearly considers a better bet for global growth given the company’s limited investment capital.
The Chrysler 200 will also be taken out of production later this year, or perhaps early in 2017, when its assembly plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan, is converted for production of the next-generation Ram 1500 pickup truck.
Marchionne suggests, however, that the tooling for the Chrysler 200 — now in only its second model year — will likely be sent elsewhere, for another maker to produce the car.
The Dart, however, may not be resurrected at all.
Dodge Dart, we hardly knew ye.