Chrysler chief's Dodge Dart joke falls flat

@CNNMoney March 7, 2012: 12:05 PM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- The start of production of the new Dodge Dart is a very big deal for Chrysler Group. But not too big for CEO Sergio Marchionne to joke about it.

Speaking to reporters at the Geneva auto show on Tuesday, Marchionne said that the start of production was being pushed back from April 1 to April 2 "to avoid being jinxed" by April Fool's Day.

But as Chrysler spokesman Gualberto Ranieri points out, April 2 was always the scheduled launch date for production. April 1 this year is a Sunday.

"Can't we make a joke in America?" Ranieri said Wednesday when asked about his boss' quote. Numerous news reports on Wednesday failed to note that Marchionne was joking.

The Dodge Dart is a much anticipated model, the kind of competitive, fuel-efficient small car that Chrysler hasn't manufactured for decades. While the name harks back to a model last offered in the '70's, the car's engineering is shared with Italian automaker Fiat Group, Chrysler's majority owner of which Marchionne is also CEO.

With gas prices rising steadily and approaching $4 a gallon nationally, and with Fiat still slow in building sales of its first U.S. model in decades, the subcompact 500, Chrysler needs the Dart to draw economy-minded buyers into dealerships. The sticker price for the base model will be just under $16,000.

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Chrysler's only other small car offering is the Caliber, a widely criticized model which it stopped producing in late December. Even Marchionne dismissed the Caliber, saying in January 2011 that to call it a retail model was "an abomination." To top of page

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