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New For 2012: 'This Isn't Your Father's Dodge Dart'

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Between 1960 and 1976, the Dodge Dart was one of the best-selling cars in America, with its affordable price and rugged styling. More than 3.5 million Darts were sold.

Though the car was never known for being especially stylish or pretty, Chrysler is now reviving the name as the company continues its own revitalization. On Monday, it unveiled the new Dart at the 2012 North American Auto Show in Detroit.

The unveiling of a new car is the part executives really love. First there's a preamble — they usually talk about history — then they talk about turbo chargers and torque and horsepower.

"The days of sacrificing horsepower for fuel economy and vice versa are long gone," Reid Bigland, Dodge brand president and CEO, tells the crowd. "Today you have to have both, and we do."

Next comes the big reveal: As intense music blares, the car zooms on stage, right up to the audience and reporters.

Chryslers sells lots of big SUVs and sedans, and it hasn't been competitive in the small car market. But because of the bailout, Chrysler agreed to sell a fuel-efficient small car that's made in America.

The new Dodge Dart is built on the platform of one of Fiat's Alpha Romeos, though Chrysler stretched it a bit to fit us larger Americans. While the old Dart sat six, this one is a compact car that fits five uncomfortably.

Bigland says most people younger than 35 don't even remember the original Dodge Dart, but those over 35 remember it fondly. Aaron Bragman, a senior analyst at IHS Automotive who falls into the latter age group, says this is definitely not your father's Dodge Dart.

"The old Dodge Dart is really one of the vehicles you think of when you think of a '60s American car," Bragman says. "It was big, rear-wheel drive, it had room inside for six. ... It is nothing like the car we see in front of us."

Bragman says the new Dart is a sign of a real change in the culture of the U.S. car industry.

"They were happy to cede the passenger-car market — mid-size cars, compact cars — to Japanese competitors, and Japanese brands basically took over the American market," Bragman says. "They sold far more than the Americans do. Well, apparently the Americans are no longer content with that, and they're introducing passenger cars of their own that are easily as good, if not better than, many of their competitors."

Bragman and other analysts say if the Americans don't continue to stay competitive in the small car market, they won't be selling cars globally — or in the U.S. for that matter.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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