Here are two news items you might not have expected: sales of Chrysler's highly anticipated Dodge Dart have been shockingly slow out of the starting gate, but the oft-maligned Chevrolet Volt is on track for its best month yet.
Of course, we're not saying that the Dart and the Volt are competitors, even though they're classed as compact sedans. But clearly, both bits of news run counter to expectations.
The Dodge Dart is a peppy, affordable, well-designed, gasoline-powered car -- the brash cousin of the late Dodge Neon, but based on the platform of its overseas in-laws at Fiat. The Dart is also a revival of a once-popular model that littered auto lots throughout the 1960s and 1970s. In short, the Dart benefits from nostalgia and bravado, making it a good match for Chrysler fans who want a fun, stylish ride, but aren't in the market for a Charger.
The Chevy Volt, on the other hand, is an extended-range electric vehicle -- a completely new creature in American showrooms. It's high-tech and nicely made, but it's certainly not nostalgic. And with a starting price of $40,000, it's more than twice the cost of the base Dart.
So you'd think that sales of the Dart would be soaring, while the Volt would remain sluggish. But exactly the opposite has happened.
A tale of two vehicles
According to the Wall Street Journal, Chrysler sold just 974 Darts in June and July, combined. Given the media frenzy over the sedan -- not to mention the fact that new models typically draw a lot of attention and sales -- those stats are decidedly underwhelming. Considering Chrysler's booming balance sheets, most had expected the Dart to fare well just by sitting on the lots.
Now, it's true that the compact sedan segment is a tough nut to crack. In fact, apart from that of the full-sized sedan, it may be the toughest in the industry. Even though the Dart looks great, it's got to compete against the likes of the Honda Civic, the Toyota Corolla, the Ford Focus, and a host of established others. No small feat.
But the biggest stumbling block to the Dart has been that, so far, most of the vehicles to arrive in showrooms have come with manual transmissions. And as much as we love a stick-shift around here, the bulk of Americans avoid them.
The good news is that the manual transmissions were built in the early days of the Dart's production. Now that Chrysler's facilities are fully up to speed, about 70% of Darts rolling off the line are automatics, and Chrysler expects that to put sales near the 3,000 mark this month.
And what about the Volt?
According to our colleagues at Green Car Reports, General Motors expects August to be the Volt's best sales month on record. While moving 2,500 units per month wouldn't be news for other models, for the Volt, it's a milestone, and it puts the car on track to break 20,000 sales for the year -- a first.
GM says that the growing popularity of the Volt is due to increased customer awareness. That's to be expected, since this December will mark two years since the model's U.S. debut. And of course, GM has been advertising it more heavily as of late.
We'll be curious to see how these new(ish) but very different vehicles fare in the months to come. The Dart might be a whopping success if it can draw attention away from its well-established competitors. And the Volt could continue to grow in popularity -- especially if gas prices remain high and a certain $7,500 federal tax credit remains in place. We look forward to seeing how both fare.