2013 Dodge Dart: Beats and Branding
May 1, 2013
When I saw the Alpine badges in the Dart, I remembered having a conversation more than 10 years ago with Alpine's marketing vice-president. I asked why the company didn't brand the audio systems it provided (through its parent company, Alps Electronics) to automakers like Honda. I argued that the Civic, or at least Civic Si buyers, would pay extra to own that sound and that logo on their head units.
The VP countered that the OEM systems weren't exactly premium setups and that a mediocre Alpine-branded factory system could do more harm than good to the aftermarket product image. A fair point. Honda says "we need an audio system built to these specs for this much money," so Alps might use lesser material for the speaker cones or lighter magnets. They won't devote too many man-hours for cabin-tuning the system.
Not long after, Rockford Fosgate branded a system in the Nissan Frontier. Not surprisingly, it was loud and bassy, not exactly audiophile but it fit the truck's image. Then Scion offered a Pioneer-branded system in the first xB, and since then you've seen plenty of branded systems showing up on the options list.
I realize these weren't the first examples. I think Lexus marketed Mark Levinson systems before that, but Levinson wasn't much of a name in the car audio aftermarket. I believe the dealer could equip your new Porsche 911 with a Blaupunkt deck back in the mid-80s, although this was often more of an expedited job, and not a cohesive factory option.
I take the Dodge Dart's branding with a grain of salt; this ain't like no Alpine system I've ever heard (having owned a few and heard several more). There's simply not the body, depth or power here that you might find in a similar aftermarket system. Alpine isn't the be-all, end-all, but I've always found their gear consistent, built with quality components, and competitive on all the important specs.
But if the Dart's branding gets in its owner's head and helps sell a better Alpine system in a Charger or Durango — or even an aftermarket preference — then mission accomplished.
Dan Frio, Automotive Editor