Fiat is betting that the small, snazzy, and fun Fiat 500 can conquer the U.S. small car market. Chrysler dealers have certainly exceeded expectations as they lined up recently for a chance to sell the small but incredibly cute Fiat 500. Complicating the auto maker’s effort will be the worst economy in a generation and a past history of mechanical problems, but a low base price and a network of factory-trained service centers should smooth the way for the pint-sized bad boy’s American odyssey.
Fiat plans 165 dealer locations for its 2011 launch into the U.S auto market after an absence of more than a decade (in 1995 Fiat stopped selling the Alfa Romeo models). According to the blog fiat500usa, marketing efforts will begin in March 2011 and production is slated to start in December of this year. Dealerships are expected to be ready by February 2011.
The 500 is already a hot seller abroad, with orders often overwhelming production capacity, and Fiat hopes to repeat its European success in the American market. Production will be located in Toluca, Mexico. The vehicle is currently produced in Poland for the European market, and there the 500 is also the least expensive in all of the E. U., selling for $15,246. The original Fiat 500 has a rich history in Poland, where a version of it was produced by FSM for decades (since 1972) as the Polish Fiat 126, becoming Poland’s most popular car. The Polish Fiat 126 was in production until the year 2000. Over a million vehicles were produced in Poland during the production run.
The new version currently in production in Europe and scheduled to roll off Toluca assembly lines is an entirely new design by Roberto Giolito, based on the 2004 Fiat Trepiuno concept car which debuted at the 74th Geneva Auto Show in 2004, featuring the most modern automotive technology. While competitive and modern underneath, it was the Fiat 500’s distinctive retro look that immediately caught the attention of car enthusiasts and critics at the auto show. This head-turning vehicle was Fiat’s response to the successful retro vehicles, the BMW Mini Cooper and the VW Beetle. Since its debut, it has conquered the hearts of car buyers in Europe. Now it’s poised to make its way into the U.S. market.
One of Fiat’s chief advantages in Europe is its low price-point: the entry level model costs 10,500 Euro. Price will definitely matter in an era of less in the American market. Just how much will the North American Fiat 500 cost? Fiat officials are mum about the pricing, but if its selling price in Europe is any indication, chances are it will be less expensive than its main competitors the VW Beetle and the BMW Mini Cooper—the 500 entry level price translates, at the current exchange rate, into approximately $14,000. Out of breath after the biggest economic downturn in a generation, the U.S. consumer may find a low price appealing.
Service should be a piece of cake with that network of factory-trained service centers across the country. Nor is it entirely true that Fiats of the past were bad vehicles. According to Car and Driver, the fact is that last time around Fiat’s reliability problems had a great deal to do with the fact that Fiat lacked a network of dedicated dealers and the repair shops such dealerships provide. Fiat was serviced through a hodge-podge of service contracts at various domestic auto dealers. Not only were these service centers rarely trained in Fiat technology (Fiat featured electronic fuel injection in 1980), they also had little incentive to built up the foreign competition. Through its deal with Chrysler, Fiat hopes to solve the problem of service availability through a network of Chrysler, Jeep, and Dodge dealerships.