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Automakers Struggle as Small Car Sales Slide

Midsize models also taking a hit as cheap gas lures shoppers to SUVs and CUVs.

by on Apr.12, 2016

Dodge will now offer just 3 versions of the Dart.

Desperate to reverse declining sales of some of its smallest passenger cars, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is trimming back the line-up of its compact Dodge Dart line and cutting as much as $1,600 off the sticker price of the three remaining models.

The Detroit maker isn’t alone. Across the industry, automakers are struggling to shore up demand for their sedans and coupes, especially the compact and smaller models that have been especially hard hit by the past year’s sharp dip in fuel prices.

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Manufacturers are ramping up incentives, trimming model lines and, in some cases, cutting production or moving it offshore in a bid to reduce production costs.

“We are repositioning the Dart lineup to better align production and dealer inventory with consumer demand and preference,” Tim Kuniskis, FCA’s head of passenger car brands.


Chrysler SEMA Concepts Hint at Niche Products to Come

Mopar generating double-digit growth for maker.

by on Oct.24, 2014

The Dodge Challenger T/A concept is a 485-horsepower beast that the maker is displaying at the SEMA show.

It’s a beautiful autumn morning as Mark Trostle leads a group of journalists out to the design department courtyard behind the Chrysler Technology Center.  “It’s like Candyland out here,” says the chief designer for Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s Mopar division, as he surveys an assortment of concept vehicles that will soon head to Las Vegas for the annual SEMA Show.

That’s the yearly gathering of the automotive parts and accessories world, a fast-growing industry that generates more than $30 billion in business annually. Not surprisingly, makers like Fiat Chrysler have been increasing their presence at SEMA each year hoping not only to put a halo around their brands, but also to help sell more of their own parts and accessories.

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Mopar, in fact, has been generating double-digit growth in recent years, in part by coming up with striking concept vehicles that illustrate ways to use products from its own parts catalogue. But it’s also going to be showing several special concepts that could soon be put, in whole, into production by various Fiat Chrysler brands. (more…)

Chrysler Small Car Sales Slide

Maker hopes to boost demand with special editions.

by on Mar.10, 2014

Fiat hopes the 1957 Edition will help boost demand for the little 500 model.

It’s been a cold, cruel winter for the auto industry, even makers like General Motors and Toyota struggling to maintain momentum in the marketplace.  Chrysler has been one of the few automakers to remain in the black so far – but while demand has been strong for models like the Ram 1500 pickup and Jeep Cherokee, sales have been sliding like a muscle car on ice when it comes to some of the Detroit firm’s smallest passenger cars.

Demand for the once-promising Dodge Dart, in particular, has been weak enough to force a temporary shutdown of Chrysler’s Illinois assembly plant.

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The downturn is all the more striking when one considers that sales of utility vehicles and light-duty trucks have helped lift the Chrysler Group to year-over-year sales increases for 47 consecutive months — one of the longest streaks in the car business — even as rivals such as General Motors, Ford, Toyota, Honda and Hyundai lost ground.


Dodge Hits Ground Running with New Dart Blacktop

Detroit Auto Show debut planned.

by on Jan.07, 2014

The Dart will become the next Dodge model to get the Blacktop treatment.

Dodge aims to put some power to the pavement next week when it unleashes the latest in its growing line-up of Blacktop models, a special appearance package that already includes versions of six of the brands other models.

The emphasis is on appearance only, the Blacktop theme meant to give the Dart a “sporty, sinister look,” according to Dodge boss Tim Kuniskis, who says, “The Blacktops have become a signature of sorts for the Dodge Brand.”

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Set to make its debut at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit next week, the Dodge Blacktop package will come as a $295 option on SXT models and adds a blackout theme to such vehicle features as the 18-inch wheels, crosshair grille and surround and headlight bezels.


Spy Shots: 2015 Chrysler 200

Reshaping what’s exported from Detroit.

by on Oct.03, 2013

A camouflaged 2015 Chrysler 200 still reveals a few of its secrets. Photo Credit: Jim Dunne/CAR SPY

Chrysler has had a history of pulling off some magic over the years, in some instances by coming up with truly breakthrough products such as the original Dodge Caravan and Jeep Grand Cherokee, other times by yanking a rabbit out of a well-worn hat, as it did when it tweaked the tired-upon-arrival Chrysler Sebring and transformed it into the so-so Chrysler 200.

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How much of that had to do with the powerful “Imported from Detroit” ad campaign that launched with a 2-minute Super Bowl spot featuring rapper Eminem? Well, that’s for another conversation, but that trick likely wouldn’t work again, and Chrysler knows it — which is why the maker is rushing to get an all-new replacement ready for the 2015 model-year.

We’ve been catching glimpses of “mules” running around for months, but these are the first good images our veteran spy photographer Jim Dunne has been able to capture of the 200 in its own skin – albeit heavily camouflaged. Nonetheless, you only have to squint slightly to get a sense of what’s coming.


First Drive: 2013 Dodge Dart GT

Successfully reviving an old formula.

by on Jul.08, 2013

Dodge adds some muscle to its initially anemic Dart with the launch of the GT model.

Even during a quick couple spins around Chrysler’s suburban Detroit test track, it is very hard not to be impressed by the performance of the 2013 Dodge Dart GT.

Just now reaching showrooms, those two little letters speak volumes about the latest version of the Dart, a promising and generally well-executed sedan that had one big problem when it came to market a little more than a year ago: a set of seriously underpowered engines.

The GT is, as those letters are meant to suggest, the sort of sporty addition to the Dart line-up that Dodge desperately needed.  That’s all the better in light of the fact that the lavishly equipped GT packages comes with more standard equipment than many a car costing twice as much.

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But what is likely to sell most potential buyers is the new 2.4-liter “Tiger Shark” inline-four engine that packs 184 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque into a compact platform that is both fast and nimble. The enhanced sports suspension only adds to the car’s excellent feeling out on the road, even jouncing over the lumpy pavement built into the Chrysler test track in Chelsea, Michigan.


Chrysler Expecting Solid June Sales Gains

Maker anticipates 39th month of year-over-year growth.

by on Jul.01, 2013

Even while waiting for the launch of the new Jeep Cherokee, Chrysler has seen sales continue to grow, month over month.

Despite Wall Street’s unexpected setbacks and other concerns about the economy, when all the sales numbers are tabulated and reported tomorrow, Chrysler expects June will have brought another month of sales growth.

Reid Bigland, head of U.S. sales for Chrysler, said that despite having one key plant sidelined for model change and deliberate cuts in fleet sales, Chrysler expects June will bring the maker’s 39th consecutive month of year-over-year sales growth in the U.S. and 43rd consecutive month of sales gains in Canada.

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“We’ve seen it pretty consistent,” said Bigland, who also oversees the Ram brand, during an interview at the Chrysler proving grounds in Chelsea, Michigan.  “I would say good, not weak, not great, just kind of good, in the month of June,” added Bigland.

That’s despite the problems the maker has had with its Jeep brand.


Chrysler Investing Nearly $400 Mil, Creating 1,250 Indiana Jobs

Factory to add new 9-speed automatic transmission.

by on Feb.28, 2013

Chrysler will add 1,250 jobs in Kokomo to build its new 9-speed automatic transmission.

Chrysler plans to invest nearly $400 million and create 1,250 new jobs at two plants near Kokomo, Indiana.

It’s the latest in a series of investments by the maker that has resulted in the creation of 8,000 more new positions since Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy in 2009. The new project also protects the jobs of another 3,400 jobs in Kokomo, a hub of automotive parts manufacturing.

“Chrysler’s future and the future of North Central Indiana are tied together, and that future has never looked brighter,” said Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight, following the announcement by Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne.

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In his own comments, Marchionne pointed out that Kokomo is the only place in the world where Chrysler produces transmissions – though it does “outsource” some from suppliers like Germany’s ZF.


Land Rover Launching World’s First 9-Speed Automatic

But it won’t have an exclusive for long.

by on Feb.27, 2013

Land Rover will show off a new version of the Evoque equipped with a ZF 9-speed automatic.

Apparently, you can never be too rich, too famous – or have too many gears.

It wasn’t all that long ago when automakers were debating the need to go from four speeds to five — then six, seven and even eight. Now comes Land Rover which has announced it will demonstrate a new 9-speed gearbox in its wildly popular Range Rover Evoque during the upcoming Geneva Motor Show.

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But the maker won’t have an exclusive for long. Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne recently confirmed his company will start offering a 0-speed automatic also produced by ZF in a variety of its front- and all-wheel-drive models, starting with the all-new Jeep Cherokee to be launched for the 2014 model-year.


Mopar ’13 Dart to Debut in Chicago

Dart reveals its mean streak.

by on Jan.31, 2013

Only 500 copies of the Mopar '13 Dart will be built.

Long known as Chrysler’s parts division, Mopar is now giving the maker’s more established car brands a little competition, the all-new Mopar ’13 Dart set to make its debut at next month’s Chicago Auto Show.

It follows the limited-edition models that Mopar released over the last three years, starting with the Mopar ’10 Challenger, the Mopar ’11 Charger and the Mopar ’12 300.

The Mopar edition Dart will, like the earlier offerings, be produced in limited numbers, just 500 copies. Each will be finished with a gloss black paint job, with matching black 18-inch wheels. There’ll be some subtle aerodynamic tweaks, including front and rear spoilers and an air diffuser in back.

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A bold blue racing stripe will complement the blue interior stitching. The driver’s seat will be done up in blue, as well, with leather for the passengers. The cabin will be completed with gloss black and black chrome trim and a sport aluminum pedal kit. The car will also feature Mopar’s new wireless smartphone charging system.