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Dodge Chief Talks 40-MPG Darts, Reliability


The 40-mpg figure is all the rage these days, but it's not as clear-cut as it may sound.

Marketing last year from Hyundai takes on some of the new compacts from Ford and GM, whose 40-mpg EPA highway ratings apply only to certain drivetrain variations. For example, only about 1% of Ford Focus or Fiesta listings on's national inventory carry the 40-mpg SFE designation. Could the 2013 Dodge Dart, whose 40-mpg variant comes with Fiat's 1.4-liter turbo four-cylinder and a dual-clutch automatic, have the same problem?

Reid Bigland says no. Bigland, head of Chrysler's U.S. sales and president of the Dodge division, says the 40-mpg Dart will be "findable" at dealerships. The first Darts arrive this spring. Dodge will offer three engines and three transmissions, but Bigland says he doesn't expect shoppers to have a problem finding 40-mpg versions of the Dart once production ramps up.

Other versions of the Focus — and the Honda Civic — hit close to the 40-mpg EPA highway mark, and Bigland expects "very competitive" figures for the other Dart drivetrains.

Reliability Issues

In an interview with at last week's Chicago Auto Show, Bigland talked about Dodge's challenges and future plans for family cars. The brand remains a weight on Chrysler's overall reliability performance, with Consumer Reports' latest reliability surveys ranking Dodge 21st out of 28 brands. Siblings Jeep and Chrysler ranked 13th and 15th, respectively.

Fiat brings a "maniacal" quality focus to Chrysler, Bigland says, but old products die hard.

"Unfortunately for Dodge, we're still dragging some of the legacy product in the survey," he said. "The Caliber, the Nitro, which are kind of no longer in production, are kind of weighing those [Consumer Reports] results down. … It's going to take a little while longer for us to comb some of that out of our hair."

Family Cars, Product Overlaps

Family-car nameplates, known in the industry as the D-segment, combined to make up 14.6% of auto sales in 2011. It's a big pie, but Chrysler's slice is thin. Among 14 nameplates sold today, the Chrysler 200 ranked seventh in 2011 sales, and its Dodge Avenger sibling came in ninth. Bigland notes that combined retail sales for the two cars will break 100,000 units this year; sales improved 71% in 2011 over the last Avenger and the Chrysler Sebring, which the 200 replaced.

"But we think we can do more," Bigland says. "We're working on an all-new D-segment platform that will be out in the not-too-distant future."

There may be more differentiation than with today's 200 and Avenger, which share platforms and a lot of interior architecture. Expect "more streamlining of the product portfolio in the future," Bigland says. "A lot of that overlap in the past was a result of having a separate distribution network. We had a Dodge network, we had a Jeep network, we had a Chrysler network. In many cases, we had to build similar versions of the same product" to satisfy dealers.

One example: A single Jeep will replace the Liberty and Dodge Nitro, which shared underpinnings, Bigland said. It will slot between a smaller Jeep and the Grand Cherokee.

Bigland wants that. Having Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep vehicles sold in the same showroom "gives us a lot more flexibility going forward to differentiate the product," he says.

That, and getting Clint Eastwood a Dodge Challenger. The star of Chrysler's well-received Super Bowl spot, Eastwood owned a Chrysler 300. But Bigland says the actor saw the muscle car, which appears a little over halfway into the two-minute spot, on the commercial's set.

If Bigland has his way, the "Gran Torino" star will get his own.

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