DETROIT -- For all of Chrysler's reinvigoration in a rebound 2011, Dodge brand CEO Reid Bigland noticed one glaring omission.
If you take a look at our accomplishments last year, we managed to do it while lagging in one key area, Bigland said Monday on stage at the 2012 North American International Auto Show here in Detroit.
The compact car segment.
Enter the Dodge Dart, another reinvigoration -- this one of a temporarily successful model that was first produced from 1960-1976. Dodge unveiled its long-awaited entry into the compact car market Monday at the Detroit Auto Show, before hundreds of onlookers at the first press preview day of the show.
We weren't competing in this segment, so we wanted to create a world-class compact car, Bigland said in prepared remarks. And we approached this segment with a clean slate -- no baggage.
Dodge is building its promotion of the Dart's revival on points of fuel efficiency, a sleek design from Fiat architecture, and affordability. Bigland said after his remarks that Dodge expects the car to average 40 miles per gallon, but he would not specify if that only meant economy versions of the car. Its starting price: $15,995.
In December, when Chrysler pre-announced the car, Edmunds.com analyst Jessica Caldwell said a reentry into the compact car market was a necessity for the company.
The most significant thing is that they're trying to get back into the compact-car market, Caldwell said. It's something which Chrysler hasn't traditionally been very strong in.
And it's a chance, Dodge and Chrysler believe, to appeal to many different demographics. When speaking to a group of reports after his remarks, Bigland said the car could attract different generations.
Younger buyers, he said, could be lured by the sleek design, That sleekness starts at the exterior, with a more aggressive look. Its taillights are borrowed from the familiar Dodge Charger. Bigland touted the car's inside design as well, especially its roominess.
The design comes from Fiat, which became a partner of Chrysler after the U.S. government had to rescue the company from bankruptcy in 2009.
We remain extremely thankful for the second chance we were given a couple years ago, Bigland said. Rarely in life does this happen. We've been through hell. We're not looking to go back.
But it will go back to what was, at one point, a successful vehicle to attempt to gain in a rapidly expanding compact car market. Chrysler built nearly 3.3 million Darts in the United States from 1960 to 1976, when it was discontinued. This could attract older buyers that are familiar with the Dart.
Fast growing, the compact segment represents about 15 percent of U.S. car sales. Dodge hasn't been successful in the market since the Dodge Neon in the mid-1990s. The brand recently discontinued the Caliber model, making way for the Dart's entry into competition with U.S. compacts like the Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus.
And that reentry could continue Chrysler's resurgence from 2011, when it saw a 37 percent increase in sales.
In our mind, you have to compete in this segment, or you're not a full-line producer of cars, Matt Liddane, vehicle line executive of the Dodge Dart, said in an interview with the International Business Times after Bigland's remarks. We're expecting this vehicle to get our share back to where we had at one time with the Neon.