By on July 26, 2010

The Fiat brand returns to the US later this year, spearheaded by the Mexican-built 500 minicar and followed next year by Abarth and convertible versions of the A-segment hatchback. With some 200 Chrysler dealers in major urban centers preparing to add the Fiat brand to their portfolios, Automotive News [sub] reports that the brand hopes to reach at least 50k units and as many as 100k units by next year. For comparison, the MINI brand sold 45,293 units in the last 12 months (ending in June) and 48,562 in the previous 12 months.

In short, Fiat-Chrysler hopes to sell (at a minimum) as many 500s as MINI sells of its Cooper, Convertible and Clubman. In a strong scenario they want the Fiat 500 to sell twice as well as the MINI. Even though it’s a smaller car with less power. The strangest part of the plan: the 500 only needs to be sold in America in order for Fiat to gain additional equity in Chrysler per its agreement with the US auto task force. We reckoned that this arrangement meant the 500 would be a small-volume, high-margin fashion accessory. Instead it seems, Fiat-Chrysler wants to put MINI out of business. Is this even possible?

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34 Comments on “Ask The Best And Brightest: Can Fiat Sell 50k-100k Cars In The US Next Year?...”

  • avatar

    I like the Cooper. It makes a tempting, high-MPG runabout. The thing that keeps me in my ’05 xB is the MINI’s requirement for premium fuel.

    If that 500 takes regular unleaded, I may just have to sign up.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian E

      Why not the Fiesta?

    • 0 avatar

      Fiesta puts the UG in UGLY.

    • 0 avatar

      Minis (non-turbo at least) run just fine on regular. It is rather confusing, they put out a lot of information about needing premium, but in the owner’s manual it basically says if you can’t get premium for some reason anything over 89 octane (I think) is fine. I split the difference and run 91, if I’m going to be driving in the mountains I’ll get premium.

    • 0 avatar

      So, you don’t mind spending 3-6 grand more on a Mini, but spending an extra $200 bucks a year on premium is a deal killer?

      I mean, I can respect not doing buying a car that requires premium if you don’t want to, but people seem to make way too big a deal out of it. If you drive 12,000 a year and get 20 mpg, and premium is .20 more than regular, it costs a whopping 120 bucks a year. With a Cooper S it’s $82.00. It’s just an incredibly minor expense, especially these days when a gallon of anything is $2.50 or more.. To me having the upsides of performance and power that come with a Mini Cooper S over a Scion B is worth a value meal a month.

    • 0 avatar

      Fiesta puts the UG in UGLY.

      Your xB isn’t exactly a work of art.

  • avatar

    Mr. Niedermeyer, I think the Cinquecento will be less expensive than the MINI. How much, I don’t know.

    Yes it’s less powerful… although I wouldn’t bet much on that since it’s very likely you’re getting bigger/more powerful engines than Europe. Anyone with a 1.2 lt/60HP over there would be laughed at. I’ve read the suspension is softer too. AFAIK the US-market 500 differs from the European one in that the platform has been updated to meet your crash standards.

    But, the thing is chic and I think they will sell it.

    50K would require around 20 cars/month/stealership. Doesn’t seem that hard, but not that easy anyway. I see they will easily get 25K.

    Now, if they make the mistake of going head on with the MINI in price…

    I don’t see Fiat trying to put MINI out of the market, but broadening the market offering another option. The target customer might seem the same, but in the end they will be different.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian E

      It’s getting the 100hp 1.4L MultiAir. The engine will be built in Michigan in order to satisfy one of the government’s Fiat/Chrysler benchmarks.

      100hp should be more than enough for the 500 to take on the Cooper, especially since it’s smaller. In other words, it won’t be power that keeps US buyers out of the 500 – just size and reliability (problems real or assumed).

    • 0 avatar

      The engines will be built in Michigan? …and then what? Shipped to Italy to be shipped back here in the cars?

  • avatar
    Brian E

    Is this even possible?

    No. I love the easy questions.

  • avatar

    Maybe. But considering there’s a black hole where Chrysler’s small car should be, it would be a mistake to price and market the 500 to compete with such a narrow niche as the MINI. It isn’t just a toy; it’s legitimately good basic transportation that just happens to be fun to toss around (unlike an Aveo or Versa.) The MINI costs too much to fall into the basic transportation category. With production happening in Mexico, Fiat should price it as competitively as they can.

  • avatar

    Saw one in person at our local Trader Joe’s a few months back (manufacturer plates). Very sharp with loads of personality. If priced right, they will sell like hotcakes.

  • avatar

    Having had a test drive of a 500 I can honestly say that it will appeal to a lot of city folk who want something small and stylish.
    Fiat really have to think about the pricing on this one… if they so much as try to match Mini’s prices whilst keeping that fart can 1.2 under the bonnet then they are in for an epic fail.

  • avatar

    In the first year, I think it will exceed 50k, though maybe not all the way to 100k. It’s new, cute and different. Maintaining those numbers will be harder, though. How many PT Cruisers, New Beetles, & Mini Coopers, Scion xBs were sold in their first years? After that, it’s got to be a good car.

    • 0 avatar

      Somehow I suspect buyers cross-shopping the Mini and the 500 won’t get anything resembling to a same level of shopping experience at their local Dodge dealer as at a dedicated Mini dealer.

      I’ll put down my bet at 30,000 units for the first 12 months.

  • avatar

    The Fiat will be cheaper than the Mini.
    How much?

    In Germany:
    Mini Cooper 120bhp €19,200
    Fiat 500 1,4 Sport €15.000

    In Usa:
    Mini Cooper $19,500
    Therefore Fiat 500 1,4 should be around $15,000

  • avatar

    If all they have to offer is the 500 then 100K is unrealistic. However, 50K is doable as the 500 has strong urban appeal.

    The question is what happens the year after. Eventually the novelty of the 500 will wear off and they will need additional competitive products in order to remain viable.

  • avatar

    No. Not a chance in hell, for a variety of reasons. Possibly the most important has nothing to do with Fiat specifically, namely the well documented by TTAC massive contraction in the US new car market.

  • avatar

    I would be interested in a 500 convertible if I could get o e with leather for under $20k after discounts/rebates.

  • avatar

    Well, I guess if Suzuki can than Fiat can as well…Oh…Wait…..

  • avatar

    Typical delusional auto exec bluster…Not. Gonna. Happen. They’d do well to sell half the amount they’re seeking.

    That said, there is a market for this car, and I’m happy to see Fiat returning to the U.S., if for nothing else, to add some variety and interesting model choices to our market over the next years…with VW chasing mainstream boredom (with it’s new cheaper, decontented Jetta) and Honda having lost it’s mojo and being way off track, having more interesting, affordable auto choices that are efficient and with interesting design features can only be a good thing.

    If Fiat’s wise though, they’re going to make sure all the bugs are worked out before the cars go on sale, offer comprehensive warranty protection, and develop/communicate a strong brand message thru fun and effective advertising (like Mini has). If they screw up ANY of those things, they’re toast.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    No, and for a variety of reasons.
    – visit your local “toy” dealerships. There’s plenty of leftover products at Vespa stores, motorcycle stores and boat dealerships. The market for toys, even toy cars that are sort of practical, is in the toilet.

    – The 500 is a small car. America is a land of BIG people. A lot of people simply won’t fit in the car. They may be too tall, but most are too fat.

    – The 500 is a small car. America is a land of BIG cars & SUVs. Many of those SUVs are bought out of FEAR.

    – The 500 is an Italian car. A lot of people believe Italian cars are junk. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. It’s what they believe, and if they believe it, then it’s “true.”

    A lot of people won’t buy a car made in Mexico. They believe that Mexican-made products are junk or take away American jobs. Or both. Once again, it doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. It’s what they believe, so therefore, it’s “true.”

    City Hipsters may be inclined to buy this car, just as City Hipsters bought New Beetles, MINIs and smarts. Then they stopped.

    Good luck Chrysler. You’re going to need it.

  • avatar
    George B

    What car models lose sales numbers to Fiat? Mini benefited from association with BMW and still sold less than 50k units. Made in Mexico Fix It Again Tony sold and serviced at Chrysler dealerships doesn’t exactly have winner written all over it.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    The 500 is an Italian car. A lot of people believe Italian cars are junk. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. It’s what they believe, and if they believe it, then it’s “true.”

    British cars were/are junk too. Didn’t stop the MINI.

    I’d venture 60k+ if its priced right +/- $20k with options. Lots of character and requisite cute/cool factor. Attention Chrysler dealers: You have VERY little latitude here and a once-in-your-remaining lifetime opportunity to get warm-blooded people in your showrooms. Don’t get too greedy.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, but… the new MINI is made by BMW. Big difference there. I agree that its not the time for Chrysler dealers to over price the 500 if it actually is a hit.

  • avatar

    Hmmm.. I wonder who would win in sales? Nissan Micra or the Fiat 500? They’re both going to enter the North America market soon.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, if Nissan goes by their standard pricing scheme, the Micra will cost $47,000, so my money is on the 500.

      Seriously, I was looking at Cubes and Altimas for 2 separate friends and their pricing absolutely appalled me. We came out with $20K for a reasonably-equipped Cube, and the other friend bought a fully-loaded premium Camry for less than the Altima priced out.

      I don’t know who the hell Nissan thinks they are lately…Honda, maybe?

  • avatar
    Geo. Levecque

    When Fiat was here once before, the problem was Service and Parts or lack of same and getting people the know how to know what to do is another big problem that Fiat has, even today according to Consumer Groups like in the UK “Which” have downplayed Fiat quality and how there vehicles Rust quickly! A big unknown in my estimation!
    As one author said, both Fiat and Chrysler are like two drunks trying to prop each other up, time is not on there side!

  • avatar

    Given that Fiat and Chrysler routinely sit at the bottom of quality and reliability surveys all over the world, no.

    Like Lada in Canada, we will see an initial spurt of sales, followed by Fiats at the side of the road, or rusting out, followed by sales collapse.

  • avatar

    Not a snow ball’s chance in Hell!

    Won’t sell 50K. Lucky to do 25K.

    This is a land where people think the MINI is tiny. The 500 is smaller than a MINI. There are not enough tragically hip folks, who also have some money, to make this a go. They’re still paying off their Vespas.

    Fashion accessory cars are a niche when times are good. They are nonsense when times are bad.

    Practical people will go for Japanese/Korean cars at the same or likely far lower price, and get a better warranty and almost certainly better reliability – not to mention a roomier more comfortable car.

    I’ll go on record for the second time – Chrysler isn’t even going to get 200 dealers to sign up for this – not if they have to build separate facilities and hire separate staff.

  • avatar

    Probably not. But I don’t think the 500 is the boutique car its being made out to be. It is a very good little car that Chrysler very badly needs in its lineup, and if a Dodge/Ram/Chrysler dealership has a 500 it will be the only truly new model they’ve had since the Challenger.

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