Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Dodge Dart's price is right, analysts say, but what about reliability?

The 2013 Dodge Dart compact is priced to compete, but much of the car's success depends on its reliability, automotive analysts say.

The Dart, Chrysler Group's first compact sedan since the company stopped making the Neon in 2005, ranges in price from $16,790 to $23,290, including a $795 delivery fee, and will be available in five trim levels: SE, SXT, Rallye, Limited and R/T.

The automaker hopes the price and fresh styling will attract Generation Y consumers -- those between ages 19 and 31 -- when the Dart hits showrooms in June.

The Dart is an important product for Chrysler in the fast-growing compact car market, says Rebecca Lindland, senior analyst with research firm IHS Automotive in suburban Detroit.

"I think the pricing appears to be very competitive," she said. "It's not better than, but it's right in line with the pricing of key competitors such as the Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus, Chevy Cruze, Honda Civic and the Hyundai Elantra."

Chrysler must emphasize the Dart's price, fuel economy, utility and reliability, Lindland said.

"Reliability is the real unknown here because it's an all-new product for Chrysler," she said. "But from what we've seen at the Detroit auto show and the info that's been released, I think Chrysler has a competitive product on their hands."

Production of the Dart begins this quarter at Chrysler Group's Belvidere, Ill., assembly plant. The base engine is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that generates 160 hp and is combined with a six-speed manual transmission or an available six-speed automatic.

Alexander Edwards, an analyst with California research firm Strategic Vision, says the Dart's styling is stronger than others in the compact market but comes from a brand that has struggled with vehicle reliability and consumer trust.

"The Dodge brand has always had some positive imagery with fun and excitement," he said. "The exterior and interior cues of the Dart will help reassure some of the buyers that may be unsure of the Dodge brand name. It's something younger buyers will be taking a look at."

Edwards said the Dart will do well in a market where the average new compact car sells for about $19,000. About 30 percent of new small-car sales are vehicles priced under $18,000, he said.

Through March, the Honda Civic is the top-selling compact with 77,169 U.S. sales. The Civic has a base price of $16,545, including a $790 delivery fee. The Toyota Corolla is second with 68,428 U.S. sales. It has a base price of $16,890, including a $760 delivery fee.

"The Dodge Dart is likely to be priced appropriately and I think Chrysler is going to find success in the market with this product," Edwards said. "It will help the brand overall."

Chrysler dealers agree.

John Schenden, president of Pro Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Ram in Denver, says the Dart's pricing is where it needs to be and he believes the Dart will be a high volume vehicle, with the SXT, Rallye and Limited editions among the best sellers.

Bruce Glascock, vice president of Spring Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Ram in Houston, says the vehicle is priced right and he plans to stock a lot of them.

"We haven't had a niche car since the Neon," he said. "It's replacing a car that has not sold very well and I think Dodge finally introducing a quality compact car will really drive sales."

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