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updated: 3/4/2014 10:40 AM

Poor Dart sales prompt 325 Illinois plant layoffs

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BELVIDERE -- Poor sales of the new Dodge Dart have pushed Chrysler to temporarily lay off 325 employees at the northern Illinois assembly plant that produces the compact sedans.

Chrysler Group LLC confirmed the layoffs at its Belvidere plant on Monday, hours after releasing February sales figures showing a 37 percent decline for the Dart, the Rockford Register Star reported. The layoffs will last through the rest of the week and affect employees on all of the plant's three shifts.

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Overall sales for the company rose 11 percent last month from February of last year, but the Dart has failed to keep up with long-established competitors in the compact sedan market since its debut in 2012.

In a written statement, Chrysler said the layoffs were necessary to "to balance vehicle supply with current sales demand."

Production of the Dart helped revitalize the Belvidere plant, the area's main employer, and it was launched with great fanfare in events attended by Gov. Pat Quinn.

Besides competition from rival automakers, the Dart faces another obstacle: It has to go up against other Chrysler models made more attractive by dealership incentives, the Register Star reports.

"What's going on now with the Dart is that when buyers go into a Dodge showroom they are getting such great incentives on the Dodge Avenger that buyers are choosing the larger car," said Dave Sullivan, an auto analyst for AutoPacific of Troy, Mich.

The carmaker has ended production of the Avenger, a midsize sedan, and is offering a $3,500 cash incentive to clear inventory. That puts a midlevel 2014 Avenger at under $20,000. A midlevel Dart costs $18,495.

"It's going to be several months before the Avenger is sold out, then we'll get a better sense where the interest is in the Dart," Sullivan told the newspaper.

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