By on November 21, 2011

With today’s official confirmation that Fiat’s US market brand boss, Laura Soave, has been replaced by Timothy Kuniskis, there’s more than a little attention being paid to the Fiat 500’s stateside sales and marketing. Which is something of a curious state of affairs; after all, when the 500 was introduced to Europe, it was quite well-received by the press and public. In hopes of tracking down some kind of explanation for this discrepancy, I hit Youtube looking for ads introducing the Fiat 500 to European markets. The first spot I found can be seen above, and it encapsulates how I feel the 500 probably should have been introduced to the US: with one simple, smart, timeless ad. Instead we got a flurry of disjointed, uncoordinated efforts, with Jennifer Lopez eventually dominating the Cinquecento‘s image almost by default. Could this explain why the 500’s US sales have disappointed?

If so, it’s not entirely clear that Ms Soave is to blame for the debacle. Here, she talks up precisely the values encapsulated in the immensely successful UK ad, and shows off some print ads that seem to deliver similarly timeless messages. But remind me again, who reads print ads? As for the entire “drive-in” concept, I’d hazard that idea had its genesis with Impatto, the since-dumped, event-focused marketing firm that helped lead the 500 launch. Clearly it was not the memorable TV ad that the 500 needed, and clearly Soave should have thought twice about an event-focused launch, especially one centered on such a spurious “urban fad.” But the “drive-in” ads were merely weak; what has dominated perceptions of the 500 in the US is Jennifer Lopez.

And, as we’ve mentioned before, the celeb-happy, J.Lo-synonimizing aspect of the campaign apparently came from Chrysler’s marketing honcho Olivier Francois, not Soave. Back in September, when Fiat was dumping Impatto, AdAge reported

“I respect what she [Ms. Soave] did so far. I may have my opinions about the brand, and they are well known so I’m not going to get into anything here,” said Mr. Francois. “But when you are working with limited resources, you have to invent some out-of-the-box stuff which I am trying to do.”

One out-of-the-box play was working with Ms. Lopez on what former auto-marketing exec Peter DeLorenzo called “quite possibly the worst automotive spot of the last decade, hands down.” Mr. Francois defended the push and said it was not a commercial at all but rather a “trailer” for Ms. Lopez’s new video for the single “Papi.” Mr. Francois said it came about after a discussion he and his friend Ms. Lopez had with her manager Benny Medina, in which they talked about having the Fiat 500 used as the car featured in the chase sequence of the video. Afterward, Mr. Francois said he asked Mr. Medina for the footage and said Fiat would put together a 30-second trailer for the video

Francois is already well-known for his commitment to unabashedly over-the-top marketing, including the Eminem “Imported From Detroit” ads, which do seem to have been more effective than the J.Lo experiment. At the time he defended early negative reaction to the initial Lopez shot by calling it a “trailer.” Of course, the reaction hasn’t improved with the full ads, and negativity hit a breaking point last night, in the wake of Lopez’s 500-themed AMA performance. Clearly Francois’ gamble on Lopez’s starpower has fallen flat, and it would be shocking to see any further collaboration between the two…. and yet Soave, who apparently has had nothing to do with the Lopez decision, is the one being replaced. Why? Well, Francois is close to the big boss, Sergio Marchionne, and worked with him well before the Chrysler takeover. Don’t believe the J.Lo ads had Francois’s French fingers all over them? Check out this Lancia spot he approved a few years back:

In fact, using celebrities on the cheap is something of a well-worn tactic for Francois. AdAge explains

Mr. Francois coyly said he does not like to use “spokespeople.” But his two ever-present BlackBerrys run deep with celebrities who have appeared in his ads: Carla Bruni Sarkozy, Richard Gere and even the Dalai Llama. Of those, only Mr. Gere took a fee, and it was for his charity. Even Eminem sold Chrysler rights to his song for 20% of what he could have gotten just to be part of the ad. Oscar-winning actor Adrien Brody directed a Chrysler ad late last year, his commercial directing debut, and voiced the ad as well.

That might work passably when your job is to cheaply up the image of staid, older brands like Chrysler or Lancia. When it comes to launching a unique, fashion-forward car like the 500, you have to let the car speak for itself. As Soave herself put it, “the car is always the hero.” Too bad she failed to explain that to her bosses.

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84 Comments on “Ask The Best And Brightest: Who Killed The Fiat 500 Launch?...”

  • avatar
    A Caving Ape

    Ray Kroc.

    Seriously though, I just don’t think the market was that big to begin with. If it had caught on as a fashion statement, then yes, maybe. But city cars aren’t something people in the US buy for practical reasons.

    • 0 avatar

      This car is not a classic in the market they tried to sell to as a classic.

      And it is too small.

      It ends up not looking like a car for Americans, but a nice little car for Italians.

      And it is priced too high.

  • avatar

    You just cannot sell this small underpowered car at the price Fiat wants, there is no market at that price. Since Ford builds the Ka on the same underpinnings, there must be room for price cuts. Huge price cuts.

  • avatar

    Whoever thought they’d sell 50k in the first year.

    It’s a size most people don’t want from a brand few people trust. And it drives somewhere between awfully and okay, depending on your expectations.

    • 0 avatar

      What is it with manufacturers expecting people to pay more money for less car in this segment? Scion iQ, Fiat 500, Smart ForTwo, all of meh-level appeal, limited utility, and worse fuel economy. The Mazda2 or Kia Rio (and etc.) seem like much better propositions for everyone who can’t afford to own a second (pocket) car just for kicks.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 Very well said

    • 0 avatar

      All the twenty something would-be hipsters at the ad agency and Fiat/Chrysler’s marketing department thought the car would sell because it looked trendy to them. If you are young and have few responsibilities (or possessions that need carting around) a 500 may work for you. Of course, so would a bicycle.

      Everybody in marketing and the ad agency agree the product is great, groupthink takes over, and nobody wants to spoil the party by pointing out that the emperor has no clothes (who wants to be the unhip guy standing in front of the marketing train?).

      Then everybody involved is shocked, shocked that the car does not sell well. A similar process at GM produced the Aztek.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m 52 years old, way too many responsibilities, and find a bicycle (Italian, of course) to be extremely useful and fun to get around. Not sure what your point is there.
        Also I seriously want a 500 Abarth. My desire for a Mini has diminished greatly now that every schlemiel on the block owns one.
        The Pnotiac Asstek was simply the third ugliest automobile ever built. 1st? Lexus 430SC wins that dog turd contest, and those seem to sell.

    • 0 avatar

      I test drove a 500 this weekend. It’s a dog off the line, and you really have to flog it to get up to 60 mph. It was comfortable (snug), but the rear seat couldn’t hold my dog. No wonder they’re not selling.

  • avatar

    I really, really like the 500 (and moreso, hopefully the Abarth). Having said that, I doubt the marketing did much either way to help or hurt the 500 here in the States. With the exception of both coasts and perhaps a few larger cities (say, Chicago) the market for the 500 was always going to be severly limited. Look at the #1 selling personal vehicle right now (F150) and that should tell you all you need to know about the relative chances of success it’ll have. Although I’ve rented several and have always had positive comments at the pump when people stop to talk about it, I doubt it translates much into a desire to buy one, as folks tend to gravitate here to either pickups or Camrii…

  • avatar

    For what it’s worth, I hate the UK add. It tells me nothing about the car, other than that it might be useful, as Fiskars scissors or a Swiss Army knife is. So…a car that is priced as an emotional sell, has a practical, everyday tool style add? Honda Fit anyone?

    I do like the drive-in ad. I think that would work here in the U.S. I think a huge part of the failure here is that this is a nostalgia inspired design, like the Mini, New Beetle, Mustang, Camaro and Challenger, yet nobody in America has seen the original. I think it is very smart for Fiat to introduce the old car along with the new car, to generate the emotional response they need.

  • avatar

    The mistake they made was making a fashion item, and then expecting it to stay in fashion, without it having any other qualities. Just like the ‘New Beetle’ and the Thunderbird. The Mini one is at least also a driving machine, and the PTCruiser was at least a practical family hatchback (I never said reliable)…

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    It’s obvious to me. I know a LOT of people who bought Explorers, Expeditions, Suburbans, X3s,X5s, that Volvo thing, etc. because they perceived that “Large = Safe” and “Small = Unsafe.” That’s the perception.

    The reason I know this is because one of my cars is a Miata, and people have said stuff to me such as, “Don’t you feel unsafe?”

    A Miata is larger than a 500. That’s the reality.

    And there’s another reason. Look at any online forum attached to an article about Fiat, and count the “Fix It Again Tony” jokes. That’s the perception.

  • avatar

    This car needed one of two things for me. Either a semi-powerful engine or (preferably) a front drive Miata type suspension. I would have to test drive one, but the reviews I have read haven’t inspired me enough to take the time.

  • avatar

    It wasn’t an ad, it was a music video trailer? That right there’s a job-losingly pathetic excuse. It’s a pity Mr. Francois is so close to Marchionne; for all rights he should be the one sent to the guillotine. He’s Soave’s boss, and he just let this crap ruin America’s first impression of the 500.

    J.Lo has nothing to do with anything. I didn’t even know she was still an active performer. If you’re going to go for starpower (and you shouldn’t), at least go for somebody more current, like, oh, I dunno, the Twilight Saga.

    And while I also scoff at “MODERN MASTERPIECES” (Really? It’s a retro-reskinned Panda), that ad up top was orders of magnitude better than anything Americans have been subjected to.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Isn’t it a little early to call the cars “death”? It’s not like they’ve pulled it out of the US Market or something. FYI Chrysler can show me as much of J Lo as they want (that goes for JLo herself too.)

    Have they announced pricing for the Abarth yet?

  • avatar

    Pretty much every review I’ve read has gone along the lines of ‘looks cute, doesn’t drive particularly how we’d like, the interior isn’t that fantastic and it costs too much.’ And although it’s not often said out loud, there are usually inferences to Italian vehicles and reliability issues.
    I often wondered who would end up buying the 500 when it was finally released on this side of the Atlantic, and in my current ‘hometown’ of Vancouver BC, the only people who I see driving them resemble hairdressers.
    Anyone with an eye for a small car and value will look elsewhere.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t know what reviews you are reading that say the car’s performance is so, so.

      Most of the reviews I’ve read have been VERY positive about the car in most respects, even its performance. The only exception was the PJ O’Rourke piece and he simply didn’t even GET the car at all.

  • avatar

    the 500 is the wrong car, wrong size, wrong price, wrong time, wrong market… even in Europe

    ok it’s a trendy looking car but the reality is that its competitors do just about everything better

    • 0 avatar

      Even Fiat’s own Panda does everything better. But Fait’s U.S. product planners seem unwilling to try to convince our public that a small, underpowered car can be useful… and fun.

  • avatar

    Car is too small for US market.

    The only thing that would sell it is $5 per gallon.

    And it is moronic and job-killing to sell a few more 500’s by ruining our economy that way by artificially raising the price —increasing taxes, blocking drilling, blocking pipelines, etc.

    • 0 avatar

      The only thing that would sell it is $5 per gallon.

      Maybe not. During the Katrina run-up in gas prices, while most other small car models were in short supply, plenty of Cobalts and Calibers stayed planted firmly on dealer lots. And that was even with big money on the hoods.

      The thing that got those aging econo-crapboxes moving wasn’t expensive gas, it was Cash-For-Clunkers.

  • avatar

    I want to like this car, I’m in the market for a small, fun to drive, efficient car. I like the size/looks/interior. The test drive ruined it for me though. It’s a gutless wonder and not particularly fun to drive. I think I’d like the Abarth version, but I’m sure their asking price will be over my budget.

  • avatar

    Whoever made the decision to limit distribution to 100 “studios” while pricing it too high is the person(s) who killed the 500.

    • 0 avatar
      Joe McKinney

      I live in Alabama and their is only one Fiat dealer in our state. Granted, Alabama is pickup/suv country and this really isn’t the 500’s target market, but if they are only going to have one dealer here, why bother at all? They should have given every Chrylser dealer the option to sell Fiats. This way the car could be available in more places where it might sell.

  • avatar

    well, whatever is to blame for the 500’s disappointing sales in the US – it isn’t the marketing. I feel like ads basically do one thing – remind or inform people that a car exists. No one is spending $20k on a vehicle, a note they’ll be paying off for years, on the basis of how good the ads are.

    They’re doing it on the basis of how well the car meets their needs as a consumer. And as much of an unabashed fan of the 500 as I am, I realize that it doesn’t meet a lot of consumer’s needs here in the US market – it’s not particularly well suited to a lot of commuting here. We do a lot of highway commuting, not a lot of in town commuting, and the 500 is distinctly ill suited for that. Whether you have the 5MT or 6AT, the 500 is either screaming it’s head off and getting bad gas mileage, or not having enough power in the top gear to keep up with traffic.

    It’s a nice car. it’s comfortable, stylish, (relatively cheap, comes with a lot of good equipment, but it’s a terrible highway car. The Abarth, with way more power and torque and a numerically lower gear ratio, will largely fix this issue.

    But unless it says Honda Fit on the back, most Americans with a commute aren’t willing to put up with a 100bhp that needs to be downshifted to 4000+rpms to keep a 75mph cruise going on the highway. That’s what I think, anyway. YMMV.

    • 0 avatar

      For what it’s worth, the Fiat is no smaller than the first gen Civic and yet thousands of people bought the damned thing back in the 70’s and many of those very same cars were then driven all over the country.

      I know one fella who once had a turquoise 74 Civic that he bought and drove it from Michigan to LA at least once back in the early 80’s. He eventually moved out to LA in I think 1982.

      The 2nd gen Civics weren’t much bigger and I had one, during much of the 1990’s and drove it everywhere, even on a long road trip to Medford OR from Tacoma WA, not once, but twice and had no problems with it on the highway doing around 70.

      Also, neither of the first 2 gen Civics weighed more than 1800# and had no more than 67HP, the Fiat has 2333# or so and has 101HP so the weight to power ratio is pretty good. It’s not blazing fast, but it’s more than enough and if you launch the 5spd version right, you can get mid 9 sec’s 0-60, the MINI gets upper 8 Sec range and you don’t call that adequate?

      I’ve driven these twice and have been impressed with their capabilities.

      • 0 avatar
        Rod Panhard

        I hear ya man on the 1st Gen Civic. It actually weighs the same as a smart ForTwo. But times are different. People equate “Tall” with “Safe.” A lot of people had pickup trucks back in the ’70s, and other than semis, pickups and the infrequent Suburban/Jimmy/Bronco drive looked down (literally) at cars. And that was out in the farmland.

        Now, just about everybody does in suburbia.

  • avatar

    What seems like a mistake here in San Diego is the fact that one of their two “studios” is in a remote exurb where people are a lot less likely to buy city cars like the Cinquecento. The other one is closer in but hasn’t opened yet. I have seen several on the streets. Maybe the locations depend on which dealers volunteer to take on the new brand.

    Just as an example, on a recent trip where I’d be in the car for hundreds of miles over the course of a week, I had a choice with (National Rentacar at BWI) between a 500 and Volvo S60, as well as the usual boring things. I really wanted to try the 500 but there were two of us with luggage and I just couldn’t see bouncing around on that short wheelbase for a week and took the Volvo.

    I saw the Richard Gere Lancia spot while in Italy a few years ago and couldn’t believe my eyes. (1) How do you drive your Lancia from Hollywood to Tibet? (2) Shouldn’t Gere, a Buddhist, be a bit ashamed to turn his faith of austerity and spirituality into a cash delivery system?

    • 0 avatar

      Worth noting:

      “Of those, only Mr. Gere took a fee, and it was for his charity.”

    • 0 avatar

      “Mr. Francois coyly said he does not like to use “spokespeople.” But his two ever-present BlackBerrys run deep with celebrities who have appeared in his ads: Carla Bruni Sarkozy, Richard Gere and even the Dalai Llama.”

      I think that’s all you need to know. Epic FAIL.

  • avatar

    All this analysis of a failed marketing strategy as an explanation for Fiat’s lack of success, yet nobody is talking about the most likely reason (Occam’s Razor and all). Dealers are charging more than MSRP for these things (at least in the DFW area). How can you expect to sell a $16,000 car for $21,000? People who are in the market for a $16k car are simply going to look elsewhere.

  • avatar

    Time for somebody pretty far up the Fiat food chain to drive one from northern Canada to the tip of South America with somebody who knows how to blog sitting in the passenger seat reporting on…everything.

    I’d read it. And if the car survived, I’d consider it.

    Of course, by then it’d be a used car…

  • avatar

    Fiat/Chrysler really screwed this one up. For the following reasons.

    1> J-Lo? Really? Might have worked in 1998, but not now.

    2> The price. $16k for a base model? Really? another $2k one could buy a new Civirolla -TM acuraandy- or Cruze and KNOW it’s decent mechanically.
    For if they would’ve pulled a Hyundai (circa 1986) or Yugo (also circa 1986) and priced it at $10k-$11k, they would’ve sold more than they could build.

    With that said, I know for a fact that Fiat/Chrysler makes $4k-$5k per car since they’re assembled in Mexico and not the US. (related to UAW labor costs…?)

    3> Fix-it-again-Tony. The fact that they (tied to #2) tried to price an ‘new’ branded car so high in a market that already has a negative perception of it points to either arrogance or lack of market/economic knowledge.

    Price it lower…MUCH LOWER, and it might clear ‘studio’ lots. Otherwise, stick a fork in it, it’s done. And i’m talking Renault Alliance done.

    Add a Panda or other ACTUAL Euro models and the brand has a chance. Otherwise, it’s just US taxpayer $ going down the toilet.

  • avatar

    I was really interested but the lack of a dealership within 3 hours killed the idea. If the Chrysler place in town had brought a few in maybe I would have one. I’ve even owned Fiats before. I had to do the “Mr. Euro” thing with a Fiesta instead.

  • avatar

    As everyone has said. Too small for the US, too expensive. And saddled with the FIAT nameplate. Americans will never buy FIATs. Ever. It should have been the Chrysler 500. And cost $4k less. And the J-Lo thing is absurd. Does anyone think J-Lo even knows how to drive a car? Or goes anywhere in a 500? Or even goes back to Brooklyn for any reason? Bad marketing.

    • 0 avatar

      Chrysler 500? Think about Chrysler’s model nomenclature for a moment. 200 is a midsize, 300 is a fullsize… 500 is a subcompact? Nothing about Chrysler says “I know how to make a small car”. They should have followed Toyota and Scion’s* tactic of having a corner of the parent company’s showroom dedicated to the 500 and Fiat instead of stand alone “studios”. Dad might be in there looking at a 300 for himself, but his teenage daughter is going to fall for the 500 and choose that as her college car.

      *Scion’s inability to move metal isn’t specifically due to being tied to a Toyota dealer, IMO. The premise of a sub-brand is good, though.

      • 0 avatar

        I haven’t followed closely, but has Scion had trouble moving cars too? Sigh. Love Scions. My automotive tastes are seriously out of sync with the rest of the USofA.

    • 0 avatar

      Would Dodge Neon instill the same fears? Maybe they could have rebooted that one. :)

  • avatar

    It’s easy to understand how readers of motorhead sites like TTAC are going to lay into the 500 for its faults but I suspect it may sell quite well to the stylish ‘J-Lo’ demographic, i.e., young, single, urban women with fashionable wardrobes.

    Just one look at the large selection of color choices available for the 500 tells me that.

  • avatar

    If Fiat/Chrysler wants to make a splash with the American market, it must be with an American mainstream car- not a cute, retro, too-small, tinny little FIAT of an import car. Make it a middle-of-the-road, 4-door family car with good value at a moderate price. And call it a Dodge Aspen, Chrysler New Yorker, or even a Plymouth Valiant. But make an attempt at getting back in the heart of the game.
    And BTW, who would believe that J-Lo could fit her ample posterior into a 500 anyway ?

  • avatar

    A lot of this seems to be an expectations problem. Trying to sell 50,000 units of a car like this in its first twelve months on these shores is too ambitious. A first-year target about half that high would make a lot more sense.

    That’s not to say that the marketing has been stellar or that the dealer roll out has been optimal. But regardless, there is only so much that can be done to sell these kinds of cars to American car buyers.

    • 0 avatar
      Extra Credit

      No argument here. While it was absurdly ambitious, the 50k sales target was required to convince people with sufficiently deep pockets to dedicate a facility and staff to represent a brand with only one (marginally competitive) product. Perhaps the good news is that most of the deep pocket people were able to see through the 50k smoke screen. Otherwise, Fiat would have the retail representation it desperately needs, and there would be more shallow pocket people trying to succeed.

  • avatar

    I’ve never understood the attraction to the 500. It’s an awkward looking vehicle, the proportions are off, the shape is odd, the front end is hideous, etc etc. I would never want to see how it drives because its appearance is just so repellent to me.

    The Mini Cooper, even years later, is stylish, attractive and funky. It’s no surprise that it’s killing the 500.

    • 0 avatar

      sillyp: Beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder. I tend to think that the interior of the Mini tries to hard to be stylish and cool and comes off as contrived and overdone. The 500 (again…my opinion only) is elegant in it’s simplicity. Where you see a hideous and odd shape, I see “just right.” But then, there were folks that loved the look of the Aztec, so there you go…

    • 0 avatar

      Mini interior = 14 year old boy with Super Spirograph. And I like Minis. Yecch.

  • avatar

    It’s not so much Jennifer Lopez that’s the problem, it’s the dis-jointed ad campaign that doesn’t convey any coherent message whatsoever.

    There are still millions of J-Lo fans, and there are plenty of people who are willing to spend for a cute little city car, but the J-Lo ad does nothing to tie the two groups together. The ad, as somebody above pointed out, offers no information about the car, has no talking points about price or gas mileage, and features a cast and setting that has no relationship to the intended market.

    Total fail.

    Also a total fail is FIAT neglecting to sell the car in the most advantageous manner. For one thing, it’s an Italian car with a small engine – to get the most bang for your buck that little engine needs to rev much higher than North Americans are accustomed to. It’s also very well appointed for it’s starting price and where it’s positioned in the market place – but it’s not being sold as a value proposition. Also, FIAT/Chrysler North America decided to market the 500 to urban women, like VWOA did with the New Beetle 1.0, ensuring that men won’t go within 500 meters of a showroom.

    Mrs. Monty and I are quite interested in the 500 – it’s small, fun to drive, reasonably priced, and comes as a Cabrio and with a standard transmission. We’ve test-driven several versions at multiple Studios, and the overwhelming commonality is at every single Studio the salesperson (Studio Assistant?) failed to show the car in the best possible light. Not once did a salesperson try to educate Mrs. Monty about Italian driving dynamics, or point out all the subtle ways in which the 500 is superior to the competition.

    I’ve now driven the Pop, Lounge and Sport versions, both a Pop and Lounge Cabrio, and both the automatic and standard transmissions. I merged onto I94 during afternoon rush hour in the automatic version with no problem – driven at higher revs the little car is more than peppy enough to merge and pass on the highway. The 500 can’t be driven like a Buick Roadmaster – it requires the driver to be engaged with the accelerator and clutch for the optimum results.

    For two empty-nesters the car has more than enough room for a week-long shopping trip/vacation into the US. I found the chairs to be vastly superior to any other car in the price point, the shifter to be crisp and short, the brakes are particularly good without being overly grabby, the sound insulation is better than some much more expensive cars and the heater and A/C are the equal of any domestic car. None of that was offered by the salespersons – it was all about the “cute” factor, and for the most part the salespersons (all males, BTW) concentrated on selling to Mrs. Monty, and in a few instances ignoring me completely.

    It’s a joyful little car to be thrown around curves and on-ramps, and I’d love to take it through the mountains in British Columbia or some of the secondary highways in South Dakota that offer some really good twistys. FIAT should convey that better, and convince people that a small car can be well appointed and exceedingly fun to drive without costing a fortune. I know that not everybody is enamoured with this car, but if FIAT could convice some of those same people to at least test drive the 500, that might lead to come sales conquests. Which is more than FIAT is gaining right now.

    FIAT is totally screwing up the chance to sell this car in significant numbers. Forget the gender-based marketing and concentrate on the selling points, because it does offer an experience that is not available with most small cars, and certainly not with any competitors in it’s segment of the market.

    • 0 avatar

      So…let me get this right…you’ve tested NUMEROUS 500s and determined all of these wonderful qualities about the car, but because the sales person didn’t specifically mention them, you won’t buy? Okay…

      • 0 avatar

        threeer – nowhere did I write that we wouldn’t buy the 500.

        The comments about the FIAT salesperson is just an illustration as to why the 500 isn’t meeting sales expectations

        The 500 is still the number one choice on our list.

        We spend approximately a year researching and testing before we buy a vehicle. The potential candidates are researched and vetted, then I winnow the list down to those that meet Mrs. Monty’s approval (as she’s the majority user of the car), then I do the initial test drive and report back to her. I’ll sometimes throw in wildcard choices, and if I’m satisfied with the initial test drive, we then go together so she can take the car for an extended test drive, and if the car intrigues her, several more supplementary test drives.

        For the next car, she wants a two door, with a stick, and sporty looks (but not overly sporty handling and suspension). The specified wishlist became the 500, Hyundai Veloster, Kia Forte Koup, Civic coupe, Volvo C30, Focus coupe (used), VW Eos, BMW 328/330/335 coupe (used) and several other mostly non-domestic choices.

        We’ve sampled all but the Eos now, tested several of our choices and been back to retest many of those.

        The 500, 335I and Veloster are the top choices. If the Abarth version of the 500 is anywhere near as good as reported, we’ll probably pull the trigger on it. Otherwise, we’ll be retesting the other choices until she makes the final decision.

    • 0 avatar
      Rod Panhard

      The 500 can’t be driven like a Buick Roadmaster – it requires the driver to be engaged with the accelerator and clutch for the optimum results.

      That’s the issue with American cars. For a car to sell in great numbers in America, it needs to (choose which words better suits your perspective) a) isolates … b) protects … the driver and occupants from driving.

      Cars that “engage” the driver with driving don’t sell here. Yes, you can say Miatas and Corvettes and 3-series and MINIs sell, but these cars are a very small percentage of the total car market. But even the current 3-series has been chided for being less engaging than the previous.

      And that, kids, is what kills sales.

  • avatar

    I met a guy that has one. He replaced an old Ranger and was impressed with the MPG as he drives 1000 miles a week. But I was wondering what he was going to do in the winter? I don’t think I’d want to drive such a small car, that many miles. But I guess that’s really only three months a year here so he can buy a second car… LOL

    • 0 avatar

      Put some snows on the little bugger and it’ll do just fine. Someone over on one of the US based Fiat forums has done just that and had reported on how it handles.

      Even if it’s iced up and on an incline, with decent snows, it went up that hill where other cars could not.

  • avatar

    @Educator Dan- well, different strokes for different folks. Sly Stone said that.

  • avatar
    Damon Romano

    seanx37: “As everyone has said. Too small for the US, too expensive. And saddled with the FIAT nameplate. Americans will never buy FIATs. Ever. It should have been the Chrysler 500.”

    Well, then it would have been “bigger” than the flagship Chrysler 300. Can’t confuse the badge branding. They’d have to call it the “Chrysler Fifty”….Ooh, hey, then they could’ve had 50 Cent pull up in one next to Dr. Dre in his 300.

    There’s your ad campaign, right there.

  • avatar

    Little car should have been launched as model-modular over here rather than a one body fashion statement. A four door wagon, van and pickup variant on the same platform with emphasis on utility & price. Fiat and Chrysler got it all wrong.

  • avatar

    Ms. Suave is useless like most marketing people, with those hand gestures, those popping “i am really telling the truth” eyes as she speaks. But whoever decided that among the subliminal message in the commercial, like January 21 calendar flash, staples and other office supplies, they should include a WRENCH, need to have their head examined.

    I got three words for you, Celine Dion Pacifica = fail.

  • avatar

    2 explanations.

    1. The 500 should have been sold through Vespa dealers. Vespa buyers want an iconic cutesy machine that gets great MPGs and they don’t mind that they can’t use it half the year. Perfect demographic for the 500.

    2. Hyundai.

  • avatar

    There are a number of ways they messed up.

    First and foremost is the requirement for dealers to set up a stand alone showroom parts and service facility. Only a moron dealer would have signed up for that given the low profit margin on the base model.

    Marketing has been a fail. The marketing is supposed to show up in advance of the product being available. At least one month they should have been promoting it heavily w/o giving too many details and w/o really showing the car, but staring it is coming xx/xx/2011. 1 to 2 weeks before it was to go on sale EVERY Dodge or Chrysler dealer depending on which they decided to align it with should have on in the showroom under a “locked” cover.

    Then as the day got closer the advertising should reveal a tiny bit of the car with a tag line like “be there xx/xx at xx:00 when the cover comes off to be the first to see, and drive (and buy) the new 500.

    Then when that day came they would have people lined up to test drive and hopefully purchase. Then they would all of a sudden show up “everywhere”. Making those who missed the reveal and get one of the first ones would be plunking down a deposit for a car that isn’t in stock.

  • avatar

    I agree the whole marketing of the car hasn’t been all that good, in fact, it’s indeed very disjointed and no consistent message either.

    That said, Fiat needs to address, head on all the fix it again jokes and show off the car’s strengths, not just that it’s a fashion accessory and yes, it’s indeed that in its styling, but it’s a serious car with serious features abound within. It seems to me that many of the features found on this car are better implemented than in many other low cost cars. True it doesn’t offer keyless start, but has keyless entry, offers heated seats and the like.

    Also, I would love to see this car compared, size wise to the original Civic in the context of if can buy a Civic the same size as the current Fiat and drive it until the wheels fell off, often across country, the Fiat can do that, and more today or something like that.

    As for who’s buying, it’s people of all ages, sexes and sexual orientations buying this car. The average age in someone in their 40’s with some as young as 18 buying it and others as old as in their 70’s buying it. I’ll be 47 in January and want one and yes, it’ll be replacing my old, aging Ford Ranger truck but I had a 1983 Civic back in the 1990’s and it was driven EVERYWHERE, including a long road trip from Tacoma Washington to Medford OR, an 8 hour trip down I-5 and had no qualms doing it, not once, but twice. That car was I think slightly larger than the Fiat but weighed less and had all of 67HP coming out of a 1500cc CVCC motor through a 5spd manual.

    While introducing the car, Fiat needs to show the car’s positive points, not just that it’s cute and overcome its small size by reminding Americans of cars like the original Civic.

    Be that as it may, the price, it may be a bit too high (for those who can’t afford it, sure) but it’s not that much out of line for what’s being sold in the B category. Even the new 2012 Accent is now starting at 14K now. So I don’t know if Fiat really can drop the prices all that much more without loosing profits. That said, those dealers who loaded up the cars to over 21K are I think shooting themselves in the foot. I think bringing in the cars with many of them as is with no other options outside of perhaps the sunroof and/or automatic, giving people the option (which they’re doing now) of being able to buy the spare separately without having to buy a package deal and see how it sells, but also, don’t load up so heavily on the automatics as that’s part of the problem I’m sure and let the Lounge get the manual as standard, auto options like on the Sport and Pop.

    But in the end, I think it’s a multi faceted problem on all sides.

    I hope they can rethink this whole thing and see about getting the cars to sell.

    That said, I agree, the J Lo adds have got to go. The drive in ad works IMP and thus it should’ve been allowed to are longer than it was, or at least have several variants on it to allow it to air for say, 3-6 months before moving on.

  • avatar

    “But remind me again, who reads print ads?”

    The MINI was launched in the US solely on print ads. Very clever ones, actually. I did my project in my advertising class in college on MINI’s approach in 2003. Not only did I get an A, but the students in the class all came away very impressed with MINI’s approach.

    Even now, MINI rarely, if ever, does TV ads.

    • 0 avatar

      One of my favorite MINI print ads was the one where you could customize the MINI: the wheels, stripes, accessories, etc. were all stickers.

      • 0 avatar

        Having actually studied the question, Smokingclutch can correct me if I’m wrong but think the stickers ad exemplified the Mini approach in advertising: a fun little fashion accessory car that you can personalize through customization. I.E. a statement as much as transportation.

        I’ve seen the European ad for the “Hello Kitty” 500 and based on that I’d rather expected Fiat to market the 500 here as a slightly-less-expensive-than-Mini palatte for self-expression. Lots of art cars and lot of boy-racer look Abarth options. Ads with college students saying goodbye to mom getting into a custom painted 500 with a guitar sticking up through the open convertible top and then picking up a handome boy/girl a few seconds later driving off now with two guitars in the back seat.

        Instead we got a car that reminds you how tiny it is in the location where lots of interior (read back seat) room was important. Those drive-in movie ads leave you wanting a big roomy American car and recognizing how out of place the 500 is in the American landscape. Seriously, what would your reaction to the 500 in the ad have been if a Chrysler 300 pulled in next to it?

        As for the J-Lo ad, the tiny size of the Fiat seems to leave her at the mercy of the mob – imagine her jumping of of the 500, and instead of strutting and singing, diving into a chauffer-driven 300 with tinted windows and suddenly: silence. Jennifer lets out a small sigh of relief anf the chauffer drives her slowly (and safely) away through the mob abandoning the tiny 500 to the savages.

  • avatar

    Ford did a much better job at introducing the Fiesta, with the young people driving them around for a year and blogging. Really, the 500 was doomed to failure regardless of advertising with the 100 dealers, especially since most of those dealers have made minimal efforts to sell the cars. And now -$500 rebate?- Are you kidding me? Advice the new guy in charge of marketing: rent your pad, don’t buy, and don’t sign a long-term lease.

  • avatar

    I hate the term but EPIC FAIL
    The marketing was horrible. Now go ask a non car person about the 500 most have now idea its on sale here right now. Even some car guys who are non internet types have no idea it’s being sold right now. I was at the garage at my dads buddies house the other day Now these are all old hot rodders ( one drives a new vette) only one guy out of 8 there knew they had actually started selling the 500 most knew it was coming but did not realize it was released. Now I live 8 miles from a fiat dealer (Gengras) I stopped in about a month ago and they had two manual tran cars in stock and I was advised they leave much quicker then the others. I looked now and it looks like they actually have about ten in stock now so they might be catching up. But I see a few on the roads now and I;m expecting more will come.

  • avatar

    I drove one. But, I’m an enthusiast, and I’ve heard of it. People buying $15k new cars are often coming out of junk heap cars, and want something reliable. Nothing about the 500 screams “I’m Reliable!”.

  • avatar


    first time caller, first time tweeter.
    I hear this is the place to verbolize opinions of all things 500?
    Grazie…then I’ll begin.

    Thinking this will a textbook case study in marketing for years to come. Cultural factors face off against value perceptions, go head to head with established micro-manufacturers with solidified quality resumes.
    The wee Berlesconi derived cinquecento should have, and could have faired much better on the North American stage. Price point, Chryslers less than stellar reliability coefficient of drag, combined with either a complete lack of knowledge about the marque, or an all too familiar understanding of the brand’s crappy quality histrionics.
    Price point for a 100 HP ride of unproven reliability and awareness should have hit the market at $14k or lower. Competing head to head with proven marques like the Civic, Fit, Mazda 2/3, Ford Fiesta/Focus and influx of GM products put the 500 in David v Goliath marketing scenario. Even the lovely Ms. Soave and her less than ideal marketing choices could elevate the car above the existing micro-hatched noise. Not that the marketing effort was worth of note as I saw perhaps one ad in an automotive magazine…no online programs, no social media pushes of significance. Just the odd page, somewhere with an empty, hollow tagline.
    Having driven the car my opinion is one of hesitancy. The car, although overpowered through the directional device at park, manages to retain decent composure under normal city driving. The 100 HP gets no kudos from me as me lawnmower would give it a good trouncing on the track. Finish and fit were for what I could see in my 12 minutes of glorified drive time, not so bad for a car of it’s price. Would I buy one…no.

    The Abarth, perhaps, but only after giving it a solid thrashing about the off ramps. But again, the need to keep the price point under $26k would be imperative or again, the car is competing with Golfs, Speed3s, Focus, Civic SI, etc. (should note, that selling the vehicles through Chrysler dealerships was a very bad call. The sales persons (cough) have little interest in selling the car (see marginal commission) for numerous reasons.) The Studio concept, with inner city placement ala Mini studios, had it been implemented properly could have significantly raised awareness to what is the car’s ideal demographic.

    My best marketing push would be to drive the emotional aspect and not go spec to spec against the Asian markets. Sell the car as a loss leader, with a more visceral experience (abarth) if they have to in order to gain market share. Give the things away with every bottle of chianti. Get Danny Devito and Joe Pesci to drive the car across the USA giving away copies of La Dolce Vita and vermicelli. Give it to the Mario Bros and let them loose in a video game setting, but for gods sakes play up the car’s Italicized history and cultural artifacts.

    But we could go on and on about the plethora of consumer conspiracies that have befallen the wee 500. But I do know from my marketing classes of the 40s that placement of one big bootied JLo getting it jiggy on the hood of a 500 is not going to help.

  • avatar

    Wow, that first video is a piece of crap. All it tells me is that the Fiat is a small piece of crap that will probably brake or be lost in a drawer within a year. I have zero emotional connection to any of the items shown, and I doubt it is wise to project that disinterest onto a car you’re trying to sell.

  • avatar

    Does anyone know why the fuel econ is so mediocre given the light weight and the much hyped “multi-air” engine?

    27/34 with an auto doesn’t seem to be much of an engineering feat.
    The Cruze Eco is 26/39, the Focus is 27/37, and the Civic HF is 29/41.

    • 0 avatar

      because the engine is full of burritos?
      even the new Mazda3 is throwing out huge mileage numbers, in a heavier, better equipped, more powerful car.

      How many checks is that in the negative column now?

      LA Auto show release of the Abarth…and not a JLow in sight!

  • avatar

    Gee, an overpriced European city car with an anemic engine, choppy ride, and sloppy handling–filled with Italian “reliability,” made by a company that gutted Mopar and crapped all over its grave.

    At least Daimler built Chryslers with balls.

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