Made in USA: 4 new cars roll out of U.S. factories

Dodge Dart Chrysler Group

(MoneyWatch) When the first, and revived, Dodge Dart rolled off the assembly line in Belvidere, Ill., last week, it joined three other new or redesigned models from Detroit companies being assembled in the U.S. rather than abroad. The Chevrolet Sonic, Buick Verano, and Ford Focus all are being produced in reopened, renovated U.S. plants.

Companies have been able to bring production back to the U.S. because of an agreement negotiated with the United Auto Workers during the 2009 bailout and bankruptcies of General Motors (GM) and Chrysler. Under that contract, 40 percent of hourly workers -- mostly new hires -- earn about half the previous UAW wage. The contract also applies to Ford, which was not involved in the bailout.

Previously, automakers avoided manufacturing their compact and subcompact cars, such as the models above, because of the vehicles' slim profit margins.

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Here is a closer look at the four new models:

  • Dodge Dart: As part of the Fiat takeover of Chrysler Group during bailout negotiations, the company agreed to build a small, high-MPG model in the U.S. Reopening the Belvidere plant in northwestern Illinois created 1,800 jobs. The Dart is a revival of a Dodge nameplate from the 1960s and 1970s. But the Dart's design is based on the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, much praised in Europe for its road manners and sprightly handling. (Fiat also owns Alfa Romeo.)

    On sale next month, the compact Dart will start at $15,995 for its base model. It comes with three engine choices:  2.0-liter and 2.4-liter four-cylinder options and a 1.4-liter turbocharged four. The turbo version has an EPA rating of 27 MPG in city driving and 39 on the highway. As a compact, it will compete against the Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, among other highly rated vcars.

  • Ford Focus: The Ford Focus Electric, going on sale this month, as well as the gasoline versions of the Focus comes from Ford's renovated, flexible plant in Wayne, Mich. Ford says this flexibility keeps down costs because it can produce only as many of the expensive electrics, which run $39,500 before a $7,500 federal tax credit, as it can sell.

    The gasoline-powered Focus, which went on sale last year as a 2012 model, won praise from reviewers for its pleasing styling and crisp handling. Like some competitors, the Focus also offers comfort and technology features not previously available in small cars. Its 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine is rated at 26 MPG in city driving, 36 on the highway. List price ranges from $16,500 for the base model up to $22,700.

  • Chevrolet Sonic: GM boasts that the Sonic is the only subcompact manufactured in the U.S. The Sonic is being built at the 1,750-employee Orion Township plant outside Detroit. Reviewers have praised the Sonic as a major upgrade in looks, performance, and comfort from the Aveo model it replaces. Available with the same choice of 1.4-liter and 1.8-liter four-cylinder engines as the bigger Chevrolet Cruze, the Sonic ranges in list price from $13,865 for the base model to $18,625.

  • Buick Verano: This Buick compact is built at the same Orion Township plant as the Chevy Sonic. Producing a small car is part of Buick's shift away from being perceived chiefly as a maker of land yachts for elderly buyers. Reviewers say the Verano works for shoppers looking for a small car with decent power and a comfortable, upscale interior. With a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, the Verano is rated at 21 MPG in city driving, 32 highway. List price ranges from $22,585 to $26,809.

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    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.

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