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Unhinged: Why Does It Seem Like Is FCA Giving Up On Making Cars?

Unhinged: Why Does It Seem Like Is FCA Giving Up On Making Cars?

Sergio Marchionne, the CEO of FCA North America, isn’t a stupid man. When he took control of what was the left-for-dead carcass of Chrysler, many people, myself included, expected the third member of the Big Three to join American Motors in that great big junkyard in the sky. What he managed to do, depending on your point of view, is at least keep the life support going, if not give the company a newfound point and purpose. We have Hellcats. We have Ram trucks that sell consistently. And as much as I hate to admit it, every Jeep made, including that obnoxious little Renegade, sell. But you know what doesn’t sell well? Their cars…more pointedly, the cars that aren’t Dodge Chargers and Challengers. Why is that? If the news is any indication, it’s because Marchionne has decided that it’s just not worth the financial effort anymore, and that they will more than likely badge-engineer a car from another manufacturer once the Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200 “run their course”.

Chrysler 300 SRT

What a cop-out. If you want to know where the failings are for the cars that FCA has put out, don’t blame lackluster sales and lack of customer interest, blame the fact that you made middling cars that you then didn’t bother improving. How about that? What reason would someone my age, looking to purchase a new car, have for buying any of those three vehicles? The answer: NONE. The 300 arrived at the perfect time for Chrysler and became a freaking status symbol car for a while, and the SRT-8 version was a banker’s hot rod. Nowadays, the only way you can get the stomper Chrysler is if you live in the Middle East or Australia…otherwise, the best you can do is the 5.7L car, and FCA North America would probably like to end the V8 version of that car as well, with dealerships strongly urging buyers to try the V6 version first. The 200’s place as a midsize contender was never going to be strong, because there is a ton of competition at that level, and because of memories involving absolutely craptacular Chrysler Sebrings and Chrysler Cirruses in transmission shops. The 200 is a decent car, but there is really nothing that catches a prospective future owner’s attention. The nicest thing you can say is that it’s the rental car you hope you can get.

22 May 2012:  Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord NC. (HHP/Harold Hinson)

Now, let me take pointed aim at the biggest screwup FCA has done yet, in my opinion: the Dart. In 2012, I watched Travis Pastrana and Bryce Menzies race in the X-Games Rallycross series in four-wheel-drive, turbocharged Dodge Darts. When the Dart came out, what was the first thing enthusiasts kept begging for? A spiritual successor to the Dodge Neon SRT-4, a wicked little compact that had balls.  Front wheel drive, all wheel drive, whatever, just give it good power and a little more aggression in the looks department. What has FCA done, time and time again? Ignore an opportune market. Last year’s Mopar display at SEMA held the Dodge Dart GLH concept car, a mean-looking little bastard that would be right at home sitting next to a Ford Focus RS and Subaru Impreza STI in a three-way comparison test…except that will never happen, because the Dart GLH concept was a fashion statement. It didn’t have anything notable in the performance department at all…it was meant to be a showcase for what was available in the catalog from Mopar. Carroll Shelby would’ve puked.

Chrysler 200

FCA’s current path is to double-down on crossovers, trucks, and SUVs, and to keep interest alive in the Charger and Challenger while the company prepares the Maserati-sourced chassis for the next update. I want to believe that all of this is smoke-and-mirrors, that they are secretly working on something actually interesting to bring to market, but even the most irrational side of me is having sincere doubts about that. Chrysler can make a car, but apparently they have trouble making a car that inspires anyone anymore that doesn’t cost sixty grand. Anyone willing to bet on how long it takes Mr. Sweater to start selling Chinese cars in the American market?

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7 thoughts on “Unhinged: Why Does It Seem Like Is FCA Giving Up On Making Cars?

  1. Chevy Hatin' Mad Geordie


    No more Hemis?

    This would be a national outrage as without the Chrsyler Hemi Top Fuel dragsters would just now be hitting 150mph dragged along by wheezing small-block Chevys. But as a Brit who saw a myriad of legendary car makers disappear over the past 3 decades, progress is progress as they say.

    So farewell, Chrysler – thank you for creating the eighth wonder of the world..

  2. Anthony

    The Dart is a badge engineered car. Sold as a Fiat and an Alfa in europe. The 200 is not bad for a commuter but long term durability would turn me off. Should have gone with the 200 they had as a concept a few years ago.

  3. Patrick

    The problem with their new strategy is going to be the ever tightening CAFE regs. Good luck hitting your mpg numbers with a bunch of SUVs and v8s

  4. The Crusty Autoworker

    Pretty much agree with your point of view 100%. When FCA decided to re-enter the small car segment they needed something spectacular, something like what the old pre Dumbler Benz Chrysler Corp. would have done. The Dart is a nice same as everybody else car, playing in a hotly contested segment. It was simply not good enough to win back customers abandoned when the Neon got replaced by that craptastic Caliber piece of turd. Sad thing is the resources were there back when Dumbler designed that thing, to actually build a much better Neon, but they had already made the choice to suck Chrysler dry, rather than improve upon what they had purchased back in the 1998 “merger of equals”.
    Arrogant Teutonic dummies they were.

  5. jerry z

    The problem with the Dart is that it’s junk! My nephew bought brand new, sold it 3 months later after spending more time in the shop than on the road.

    Solution? Make a better quality car, maybe it might sell. I do like the look of the Dart and 200.

  6. Gray Fredrick

    As a long time Mopar guy whose wife drives the most loaded Dart available (she likes little, squirty cars) I have been very impressed with the quality of the car and the driving experience. The car is loaded to the teeth, drives like a rally car and always works exactly as designed. And who could complain about a little Alpha blood coursing through it’s veins.

    After screwing the pooch for thirty years when it comes to small and midsize cars (Spiritless, DieNasty, Peeon, Calibarf) the little player in the Big3 finally got the darned things right. Now they are giving up on the idea?

    I remember when Oldsmobile brought out the baby Northstar Aurora and the 3.5 all aluminum V6 Intrigue. Though severely dated now, at the time these models moved the needle for Oldsmobile and made their car line relevant. It was too little, too late and Olds soon became the best line of cars never to sell and Olds is a thing of the past.

    C’mon, FCA, get your heads out of your collective posteriors. You can’t just build the high dollar, high profit stuff while leaving giant holes in your product line or giving us more of the rolling junk you’ve stuck us with in the past. The world has moved on to high quality small and medium sized sedans for a reasonable price and you are finally playing in the big boys’ sand box. Here’s hoping you don’t throw that away for short sighted strategies and short term gain.

    Viva Le Dart!

  7. BeaverMartin

    It’s a shame that FCA can’t capitalize on their built in fanbase by simply selling them what they want, namely:
    -Diesel Jeep Wrangler
    -Wrangler based small truck
    -Ram 1500 based Tahoe and Suburban fighter
    -300 SRT8 and Hellcat
    -Hemi powered Viper based Corvette fighter
    -Dart SRT4
    -A mini-van as reliable and nice as an Odyssey

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