It's a magic number, 40 mpg, a nice big round figure to tout in big print every time gasoline prices go up.

Most makers have at least one car that achieves 40 mpg, but for the new 2013 Dodge Dart, it's not an option--there has to be one model of the Dart that's rated by the EPA at 40 mpg or better on the highway cycle.

Why? Because that's the hurdle set by the auto task force during the Chrysler bailout for Fiat to take control of the last 5 percent of Chrysler that it doesn't own. The EPA could issue its ratings for the Dart as early as the end of this month.

Fiat was given 20 percent of Chrysler in June 2009, during the bailout, in exchange for its production engineering, engines, and small-car technology.

At that point, Chrysler was arguably incapable of designing competitive mid-size, compact, and subcompact passenger cars, though its pickup trucks, minivans, and some all-wheel drive Jeep models have remained class-leading or at least viable in the market.

2013 Dodge Dart Compact Sedan

2013 Dodge Dart Compact Sedan

Fiat earned another 5 percent for starting production of its 1.4-liter engine in Michigan, and a second 5 percent for putting Chrysler vehicles on sale throughout South America. That 1.4-liter engine is now used in the 2012 Fiat 500, and a turbocharged version will be offered in the 2013 Dart.

It repaid $7.6 billion in U.S. government loans for an additional 16 percent, and bought the final 6 percent owned by the U.S. government last June. The U.S. government ended up losing roughly $1.3 billion in the Chrysler rescue.

All told,  Fiat now owns 53.5 percent of Chrysler, so it already controls the company. The United Auto Workers' voluntary employee benefits association still owns the remainder of the company, and Fiat has an option to purchase those shares as well.

Fiat and Chrysler logos

Fiat and Chrysler logos

But a 40-mpg model of the 2013 Dodge Dart will give it the final 5 percent and, most importantly, take the Federal government entirely out of the equation.

Which will simplify the situation for everyone, and let the 2013 Dart compete on its own merits in the marketplace.

Whether the new Dodge Dart competes with compacts or subcompacts has yet to be determined. The few details known so far indicate that it's 6 to 10 inches shorter than compact competitors, including the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze, and Hyundai Elantra.

2012 Dodge Charger SRT8

2012 Dodge Charger SRT8

Chrysler plans to market the 2013 Dart sedan as having "Alfa-Romeo DNA," though it is also banking on more traditional Dodge heritage by claiming its dual exhausts and LED full-width taillights are "inspired by the Dodge Charger" as well.

As well as the turbocharged 1.4-liter MultiAir four that's likely to be the fuel efficiency leader, the Dart will offer 2.0-liter and 2.4-liter engines carried over from those used in the outgoing and uncompetitive 2012 Dodge Caliber hatchback.

The two larger engines have been rebranded "TigerShark," with the larger of the two now fitted with Fiat's MultiAir valve technology.


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