Why Fiat Chrysler is dropping the 200 and Dart – Detroit Free Press
“Why’s Chrysler dropping the 200 and Dodge Dart? Are they that terrible?” a reader asked recently.
No, but they’re not great. That, along with changing buyer tastes, doomed the two cars.
The 200 and Dart have their virtues, but neither is a clear leader in any of the areas customers care about most: value, style, safety, performance, technology, fuel economy and design.
Imagine yourself in a Hertz lot. Your choices are a Chrysler 200, Ford Fusion, Nissan Altima, Chevrolet Malibu and Kia Optima. Which one do you ignore? Yeah, me too.
That just won’t do. Fiat Chrysler needs great cars to overcome decades of mediocrity and worse. Too many shoppers have been trained to disregard the compact and midsize cars in Chrysler dealerships, even as they line up to buy Jeeps, minivans, Ram pickups and sport sedans in the same showroom. Fiat Chrysler’s cars must force their way to the top of the list.
Chrysler’s history of building cars ranging from the adequate Sebring convertible to a flaming bag of poop like the Caliber SRT-4 created a high bar for the 200 and Dart. They couldn’t clear it.
To overcome the inertia of uninterested buyers, Fiat Chrysler cars must be outstanding. They will win buyers’ attention when they demand it, not before.
That requires clear leadership in areas that matter to the customer, not bragging points the marketing department invented so they could claim to be No. 1 at something, anything.
The 200, for instance, claimed to be the only midsize sedan with all-wheel drive and a V6 that cost less than an Audi A6 Quattro. True, but hardly anybody cared, and the boast was written with lawyerly care to obscure the reality that Subaru and Ford sold better AWD sedans for about the 200’s price.
It’s not that Chrysler and Dodge can’t sell cars. Look at the PT Cruiser, 300, Charger and Challenger.
Those cars were so compelling consumers couldn’t ignore them. They repaid the public’s attention with performance, innovation and design.
I’ve driven thousands of miles in 200s and Darts. I enjoyed both cars, but neither elbowed its way to the front of its class the way the 300 and PT Cruiser did.
Fiat Chrysler’s Uconnect system of voice recognition and controls is probably the best in the auto industry, but that alone isn’t enough to drive buyers to a 200 rather than a Nissan Altima or Chevrolet Malibu, or a Dart instead of a Honda Civic or Ford Focus.
Add the reality that the market is shifting away from traditional sedans toward small and midsize SUVs, and Fiat Chrysler’s decision to flout tradition and stop making the 200 and Dart becomes the obvious, smart move.
Buyers want small SUVs like the Buick Envision, Ford Escape, Honda HR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe and Toyota RAV4. They’ll pay thousands of dollars more than they would for a comparably equipped sedan.
The Dodge Durango, Jeep Wrangler and Cherokee demonstrate Fiat Chrysler can build fine SUVs. Now it has to expand that expertise to new segments and more models.
FCA is done beating its head against a wall of Toyota Camrys and Honda Accords.
Concentrate on what you do well. Sell it for a profit. Welcome to Econ 101.
It’s not exactly correct to say Fiat Chrysler will drop the 200 midsize sedan and Dart compact, though. Chrysler will stop building them, but it hopes to continue selling midsize and compact cars. If CEO Sergio Marchionne plays his cards right, FCA will replace the 200 and Dart with better vehicles built by one or more other automakers.
We’re not sure when that will happen, but it’s part of FCA’s grand plan to keep its dealers happy and form a partnership with another global automaker.
The strategy acknowledges the reality that Fiat Chrysler is pretty damned good at making SUVs and trucks, and just about anybody should do better with midsize and compact cars.
Contact Mark Phelan: 313-222-6731 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mark_phelan.