Back in January, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) announced that it would kill off the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart sedans to concentrate on more popular (and profitable) trucks and SUVs. That move would essentially take FCA out of the mainstream passenger-car market in the U.S., but the 200 and Dart may get a stay of execution.
FCA is currently in talks with other companies to build the sedans on its behalf, CEO Sergio Marchionne told Motor Trend at the recent Geneva Motor Show. The news comes at the same time as FCA’s announcement that it will extend a temporary shutdown of the Sterling Heights, Michigan, factory that builds the 200. The plant shut down February 1 and was supposed to reopen March 14, but will now stay idle until April 28.
Meanwhile, Marchionne said discussion with potential partners about taking over 200 and Dart production are ongoing. He said FCA is no longer interested in building these cars, and that it’s seeking a partner “who is better at it than we are and who has got capacity available.” That could mean a couple of things.
Marchionne’s mention of a company that is “better” at making sedans than FCA suggests the Italian-American company is looking to borrow another car maker’s platform, just like it did when it turned the Mazda MX-5 Miata into the Fiat 124 Spider. This tactic isn’t uncommon in the car industry; other examples include the transformation of the Mazda 2 into the Scion iA, and the Saab 9-2x. Nicknamed the “Saabaru,” it was actually a Subaru Impreza.
This would mean FCA plans to introduce new versions of the 200 and Dart, rather than continue to build the existing versions. On the other hand, it could simply contract out production of the current models to another company without changing the designs. Contract manufacturing is also a well-known practice. Finland’s Valet Automotive previously built cars for Porsche, the Mercedes-Benz G-Class is built by Magna Steyr in Austria, and the company’s R-Class is made by AM General in Indiana for the Chinese market.
While sales of the 200 and Dart have been disappointing, killing them will leave big holes in FCA’s lineup. That’s particularly true of the Chrysler brand, which will only have the larger, rear-wheel drive 300 sedan and the Pacifica minivan, both of which compete in segments that are much smaller than the midsize sedan segment.