By on October 7, 2013

TTAC_Fiat-500-sales-chart-September-2013downsized

Fiat’s recent North American downturns have caught the attention of many automotive industry observers, particularly those who never believed Fiat had a high-volume future on this side of the Atlantic.

There’s no better way to keep brand volume high than by introducing new models. Consider the new CLA250, which helped Mercedes-Benz to a 6.6% year-over-year increase in September. Without the CLA, Benz volume was down 3.3%.

However, so profound was the 500’s decline in September that the 500L’s 1031 additional sales were not enough to overcome the 500’s massive decrease. Fiat brand sales were down 24% and accounted for 2.2% of the Chrysler Group’s September volume, down from 2.9% this time a year ago.

After reporting 15 consecutive year-over-year increases, 500 sales slid 12% in June, 24% in July, 28% in August, and 49% in September. Yes, September was a much shorter selling month this year than last, but even the 500’s daily selling rate was down 45%.

These numbers tell us how the 500 is performing in relation to how the 500 performed a year ago, but it doesn’t answer the question of how the Fiat is faring in comparison with competitors.

Is the Fiat 500 heading toward the basement alone? Or is it simply following a trend in a market that is perhaps suddenly rejecting small, retro, European, (sometimes Mexican-built) hatchbacks?

BMW’s Mini brand is up just 2% this year, despite the arrival of an additional model, despite the 8% increase in new vehicle sales during the first three quarters of 2013. September sales of Mini’s core model, known as the Hardtop, fell 0.4% to 1789 units. The Cooper Hardtop and Convertible outsold the 500 range (convertible-inclusive) by 149 units in September, although they trail the 500 by 4778 sales so far this year. Mini also has the current advantage of selling the stretched Clubman, two-seat Coupe, and two-seat Roadster. Sales of those five models totalled 3636 units in September. (http://www.goodcarbadcar.net/2013/10/mini-usa-car-sales-figures-september-2013-ytd.html)

As for the Volkswagen Beetle, topless volume reached 1574 units in September, 14,819 this year. That’s 43% of the Beetle nameplate’s total. Sales of the hardtop are down 7% to 20,099 unitsand fell 24% to 1980 in September.

That 642-unit drop, along with with the Golf’s 1123-unit drop, the Jetta’s 1441-unit slide, the Passat’s 1600-unit decline, and yet more decreases reported by the Eos, CC, Touareg, and defunct Routan, brought the Volkswagen brand down 12%, or 4419 sales, in September. VW’s DSR was down 4.5%.

A potential Fiat 500 customer doesn’t necessarily or exclusively cross-shop the Mini or Beetle. Indeed, it’s worth noting that some potential 500 buyer wants a 500 and nothing else, and the same could periodically be said of the Mini and Beetle. Yet there remains the possibility that many Americans who wanted a Fiat 500 already have one.

And what of the newer, bigger Fiat? As the 500L established itself, Countryman sales in August and September, fell 20% and 41%, respectively. Fiat sold 2245 500Ls over the last two months; Mini sold 2822 Countrymans. Paceman sales in September, at 479 units, reached the highest level yet.

—-

Auto
Sept.
2013
Sept. 2012
Sept.
%
Change
9
mos.
2013
9
mos.
2012
YTD
%
Change
Fiat 500
(500 & 500C)
2126 4176 - 49.1% 28,994 32,742 - 11.4%
Mini Cooper
(Hardtop,
Convertible, Clubman,
Coupe & Roadster)
3636 2897 + 25.5% 32,374 33,186 - 2.4%
Volkswagen Beetle
(Coupe & Convertible)
3554 2622 + 35.5% 34,918 21,566 + 61.9%
Total
9316
9695 – 3.9% 96,286 87,494 + 10.0%
Fiat 500L
1031
3748
Mini Countryman
1191
2002 - 40.5% 15,596 15,345 + 1.6%
Mini Paceman
479
1665
Total
2701
2002 + 34.9% 21,009 15,345 + 36.9%
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56 Comments on “Cain’s Segments: The Fiat 500...”


  • avatar
    danio3834

    I’m not usually a fan of A/B seg small cars, but the 500 Abarth is a seriously fun vehicle. Not that it makes much contribution to sales, but it does give the 500 some credibility in my opinion.

    What do they need to do to pick up sales? Sabotage an oil refinery or two.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I don’t think fuel economy is a major driver of 500 sales. Cute is. They are great little urban warrior cars for singles. There are now 4 at my suburban Boston 50 person office,, 2 Abarths, 2 Pops. One Abarth is mine, and it is more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Ultimately, these are niche cars that are never going to sell in huge numbers, but I am sure glad they are around. Makes me smile every time I see one.

      For what it’s worth, I get 33mpg out of my Abarth, driving it like I stole it and the cops are chasing me. I auto cross mine so it is bone stock, but the other guy with an Abarth has gone to town on the thing, it dynos north of 250whp. Utter insanity. Suspension and brakes to match thankfully.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        Fuel economy definitely a component of sales of the base model units. In general, people in North America prefer larger vehicles and only tend toward micro or smaller than C segment cars in time if gas price duress.

        Cute and branding no doubt help sell 500s to people who are interested in a small car. En masse, this end of the market rises and falls with the price of fuel. That is, when fuel prices are comparatively low or the hysteria has worn off, there are just plain less small car buyers.

        The 500 has the disadvantage of being one of the smaller, nichier vehicles in the segment, and the model itself is on it’s 4th model year with only minute changes. So it’s hit a little harder than the rest.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          The 500 has only been in the US for 2 model years, 2012, and 2013. The 2014s are not out yet.

          Sorry, but as an owner I completely disagree that the price of fuel has more than the minutest impact on sales of these cars. Nissan Versas maybe, niche Italian cute cars, not so much.

          • 0 avatar
            danio3834

            The 500 is an economy car plain and simple. They might be perceived more stylish than some other economy cars by some, and people might have a higher impression of them, but one can buy more fashionable cars at higher prices if they aren’t concerned about economy. You might nothave bought your Abarth specifically for the economy, but it ranks near the to of the Pop Hatchback buyers list.

            I have my own information about owner demographics that confirms what I’m saying, but I can’t share it with you. So I asked 3 500 drivers at random why they drive one and their responses were “it was cheap”, “it gets good gas mileage” and “I liked the color”. So there you have it.

          • 0 avatar
            imag

            Small cars become a lot more cute when gas prices go up. It’s not just about mpg, it’s about image. When people need to conserve, conserving becomes trendy.

            It has happened throughout automotive history. And it’s a big part of why this cute car sells so well in Europe.

  • avatar
    ash78

    After these few years of its existence here, I still think it’s hamstrung most severely by a lack of historical context for its retro design. Car aficionados recognize the styling cues of the old Cinquecento (incidentally, my second complaint is using the “Five hundred” name which is neither Italian nor representative of the car’s displacement anymore). But for most Americans today, how much subconscious attraction can there be? The car is bulbous and a little awkward unless you’ve been around the original much.

    You could sort of make the same argument for the Mini, but I still think the original is tenfold more recognizable to a US audience.

    That’s to say nothing of the 500′s dynamics, but styling gets almost all buyers through the doors. If I had never seen the old 500, I’d have this thing listed up there with the Juke under “weirdest designs sold today.”

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      Old versions leading to sales of modern versions is due to fond memories, not merely familiarity. Ugly is as ugly does, and most people I know think the 500 is ugly, and they think old one is ugly, too.

      I suspect most Americans are only familiar with the modern Mini. Not being that familiar with the old one, I still think it looks good and captures the feeling of ‘fun.’ I don’t get that with the 500.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    Total sales in this segment is still small. People haven’t taken to these micro cars in most markets. I think they are seen as city cars impractical for suburban commutes where the V6 sedan and SUV rein.
    Aside from that I think the 500 butt ugly, a miniature volkswagon beetle at best.

  • avatar
    Flybrian

    The only historical context Fiat ever had in the states was bad. No one has fond memories of that ol’ 500 their buddy in college had and we’re noted Anglo-philes anyway, which explains why the MINI succeeds everywhere the Fiat 500 fails.

    • 0 avatar
      GeneralMalaise

      I disagree. I owned (bought new) a 1974 X1/9 that I have nothing but fond memories of. I have friends who owned British sportscars (MG & Triumph) back then and they constantly whined about poor electrics and the need to tune carbs. Needless to say, they didn’t own them for long. Alfas, Fiats and Z’s were the way to go back then, if one wanted great handling, decent performance and to avoid tractor engines.

      I own a 2012 Abarth, a car that has been nothing but grin-producing. And an ’81 X1/9. Fiat is a new brand for most Americans… those laboring under any bad “historical context” have since moved on to Buicks or Toyota Avalons.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Plus, there were a lot more Austin Americas around than the original Cinquecento.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    The advantage of lifestyle vehicles is that they can provide the opportunity to carve out unique niches with minimal competition.

    Their disadvantage is that tastes can change.

    With cars such as this, it’s likely that they end up with a decent run for a few years, before they lose their novelty and much of the appeal that goes with them. When everyone who wanted one gets one, then there isn’t much that can be done to save them. This has happened so many times before that it’s surprising that automakers aren’t more cautious.

    • 0 avatar
      imag

      I think lifestyle vehicles are basically a bet by automakers. Sometimes they are blockbusters; sometimes they fail. As mentioned above, a high gas price frenzy would have spurred smaller car sales. From what I have seen, high gas prices don’t just drive sales through rational MPG comparisons, they actually make small cars and hybrids “cool”. A big price spike would have put the Fiat 500 right in the spotlight.

      That’s why a smart automaker has a portfolio, just like a smart stock broker or movie studio. Some win, some lose, but it is all about the average rate of return. Fiat, unfortunately, has nothing but the 500 here right now, and that is a mistake.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        In Fiat’s case, they would build the 500 anyway, since there is a market for them in Europe.

        It’s understandable that they would be sold in the US, but forecasting the sales levels can’t be easy. In Europe, it has some practical value, but here, it’s more of a fashion accessory. Keeping it in fashion is a challenge, and more of an art that a science.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          I agree with you 100% on this one. Initially, they guessed they could sell 50K a year here. IIRC they have come fairly close.

          But ultimately, who cares? Nobody gets a medal for selling the most. If you like the car, buy one like I did, if you don’t like it, buy something else. Who cares if it sold more or less than last year at this time other than FIAT and the dealers, both of whom are probably making money on it regardless.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            “But ultimately, who cares?”

            Well, Fiat has to care, because the car needs to be profitable. If they build too many, it will be a loser; if they buiid too few, then they’ve left money on the table.

  • avatar
    bobman

    I think there is more they can do to make the 500 more acceptable to North American buyers. The minimum Powertrain offering should be the 1.4 turbo (135hp, leave the 160 for the Abarth for now) with an improved transmission, perhaps the TCT gearbox out of the MiTo. Again, the Powertrain seems to be the biggest complaint I see in reviews. The price should be kept the same. I’ve seen new Pops advertised for under 13K. (I realize the current turbo sells for more)

    A new product has been slow to arrive. Hopefully, the pipeline has some surprise wins for Fiat in 2014.

    I was surprised by the rumors regarding the sales of the 4c going through the Maserati dealerships. This isn’t what was promised and I can’t believe they would let down their dealers that way.

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      bobman, I think you totally missed the mark.

      No matter how much effort they put in, the Fiat 500 can never be as good as a Honda Fit. People buy the 500 for style and novelty. So they might as well work on those areas.

      • 0 avatar
        bobman

        wsn, that’s exactly the areas I was suggesting to improve. Power has been the biggest criticism of the vehicle that I’ve read about. I think these small changes would keep it competitive within that small market niche. New products are coming to help fill in the Fiat dealerships offerings. Remember the article is about the profitability of the dealerships.

        • 0 avatar
          Dan

          I’m a card carrying member of the needs moar power society, and I have every confidence that bumping this all the way up to 700 or 800 horsepower still wouldn’t interest us in the slightest. Because its a purse.

          If the yuppie women this is made for say it’s underpowered then Fiat ought to do something about it, but advice from car guys on a car that categorically isn’t for us should be taken with a large grain of salt.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            Because it is like a purse to many of the purchasers, they really do need to update it in some significant way much more frequently than most cars. That is the way they can shame those who do purchase it as a fashion accessory into replacing it more frequently. It could be as simple as replacing all of the colors at least every two years, or offering new editions/packages that are only available for one year at a time. Take a play from Lincoln in the 70′s with their designer series. Pick one or two of the popular designers and let them design a model.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            They accepting new members over at the Moar Power Society?

          • 0 avatar
            bobman

            I believe Sergio will be announcing the 500W (WARP Drive) when he completes the VEBA deal. Preliminary tests show a zero to sixty as done in sub zero time. Look for in late fall.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    I think the PT Cruiser makes the perfect example of what happens to a retro design. First few years, a good retro design is (or can be) a smash hit. But then where can you go from there? You can’t “modernize” the design, because “retro” is what sells the car. So you’re stuck.

    The PT went from being a retro smash hit to being not much more than a cheap, useful vehicle. It was left to wither on the vine until sales approached zero, and the Neon bits (on which the PT was based) weren’t being produced any more, to just dead.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      The PT didn’t die because Chrysler couldn’t touch the styling. It died because Daimler had just bought Chrysler, realized they didn’t want it, and was stripping the company to the bone. There was no money to touch anything, except for the interior which was made even cheaper and worse in 2005.

      You can’t touch retro styling but there’s no excuse to keep a retro powertrain.

      • 0 avatar
        th009

        You can indeed touch retro styling. Mini may not have changed much from 1st gen to 2nd gen, but both the Beetle and the TT had significant redesigns.

        We’ll have to wait and see what the next Camaro, Challenger and Mustang look like, though.

        • 0 avatar
          Conslaw

          Once people realized that the PT-Cruiser was a Neon under the skin and only returned 18-20 MPG,the sales gradually petered out.

        • 0 avatar
          Zykotec

          In my opinion the Mini is proof that you shouldn’t touch retro styling (still, with a car that drives well and has a ‘fashion’-following, who cares what it looks like) The Beetle is proof that you can touch retro styling if the first one is terrible enough to be forgotten quietly…

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Cheap gas explains it.

  • avatar
    The Butler

    What’s up with the chart? It ends with September 2012…..

  • avatar
    TybeeJim

    I just returned from a trip to Italy and would opine that these small cars are truly city cars and to that extent will have limited sales. In Rome, the Fiat 500 was everywhere along with the much derided Smart Car. Minis were non-existent and most of the large cars were VW Jettas, Passats. In Firenza, the crossovers appeared in big numbers and 500s, smart cars were much fewer. The same was true in Pisa, Lucca and Modena. Of course there were more wagons everywhere. The point is that the congested cities where parking is at a premium, sees more of the small cars and that’s likely the case in the US, too. Minis tend to do well in other places due to the BMW connection, the rally heritage and for folks looking for sports car handling in a small car that has a smattering of practicality. The 500 is simply “cute” and somewhat economical but far less practical that cars like the Honda Fit in the price range. Other than the Abarth, Fiat holds little sporting appeal to other than Italian Americans. Few people in the US know that Fiat owns Ferrari, Maserati, et al. and Fiat has avoided making the connection in the US. Fiat also has a storied rally heritage but does not capitalize on it as does Mini. I’ve owned 37 different cars and trucks including MB, Porsche, BMW, Mazda, VW, Audi, etc. I’ve considered trading my much unused ’04 Ford Ranger for a 500 just for fun… and that’s where, I think, the market for the 500 is in the US… buy it just for fun.

    • 0 avatar
      GeneralMalaise

      Yep… practical (except for 1 or 2 peeps), it ain’t. It is a fun package, especially the Abarth. I’ve never run across anyone who has taken one of those out for a test drive and didn’t come back with a smile.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    For the most part I think it is the fact that the majority or people that want one already have one. The 500 was at its best as a fashion statement and like any fashion statement it will have a limited shelf life.

  • avatar
    philipbarrett

    It’s a niche car and the niche who wanted one have pretty much bought one, Hummer really had the same problem. They’ll be newcomers of course, but no where near the original interest.

    The MINI would have found itself in this position too if it weren’t for updates and model versions that also appeal to both practical users looking for storage space in a small vehicle and performance fans looking for the sporty Euro hatch experience.

  • avatar
    redav

    “There’s no better way to keep brand volume high than by introducing new models.”

    Hmm. I thought building a quality product that people wanted and selling at a reasonable price while ensuring the customer has a positive experience was the best way to keep sales high. My bad.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    The 500 is a Panda chassis with a cute body attached. The new Beetle is a Golf chassis with a cute body attached. Both the Panda and the Golf are primarily designed as low cost/economy/utilitarian platforms rather than luxury or sporty platforms. Putting a cute body on a utilitarian chassis means you lose the utilitarian aspects, but still are not sporty of luxurious. The Mini is a cute body on a Mini chassis (soon to be BMW chassis), which was designed from the start as an upscale/sporty platform. Hence the Mini has independent rear suspension, rear discs, direct injection engines, vastly customizable/funky interior, etc. that are just not generally available on the economy platform Beetle or 500. Plus BMW has updated the Mini chassis regularly with platform updates, new drivetrain options, and new body styles that Fiat and VW have not done to nearly the same extent with the 500 or Beetle. The 500 is dead as soon as the new Mini comes out next year.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      The Mini is MUCH more expensive to buy, and much more expensive to own. With BMW design comes BMW servicing costs – I should know, I own a BMW as well as my Abarth. Several of my autocross buddies have Minis, so I have plenty of seat time in them too.

      Independent rear suspension on a car with <33% of its weight on the rear wheels is a bit of a waste, IMHO. The 500 has rear disks too. The FIAT interior is just as funky as the Mini, and a lot less annoying in day-to-day use – instruments in front of the driver are a nice touch. The back seat is more useable, and there is plenty of cargo room with them folded down. Practical enough for an urban runabout, which is what it is. My Abarth does quite nicely on an Autocross course too – I beat Minis with it all the time.

      The FIAT is in only its second model year in the US, if you are expecting annual substantial changes I would suggest you find a time machine to go back to the 60's in.

      • 0 avatar
        GeneralMalaise

        +5… I know more than a few unhappy Mini owners and they held no appeal for me when I was shopping. Actually, the only reason I was in the market to replace my ’07 350Z was because I knew from the moment they announced the Abarth was coming to the states, I had to have one.

        I’ve taken my Abarth on several NorCal to SoCal and back trips and I’ve no complaints about ride comfort or anything else.

        • 0 avatar
          stingray65

          I am not suggesting the 500 is a bad car, but that it has more humble origins than the Mini. As you note yourself, the Mini is more expensive and as the sales figures indicate – it also sells in greater numbers, which suggests it is likely much more profitable, and that allows BMW to profitably update it regularly. The 500 has been on sale in Europe since 2006 with no major updates, and has none on the horizon. Base level 500s do have rear drum brakes, which are not bad, but do indicate its low cost origins.

  • avatar
    April

    In my area the Fiat franchise is based out of the used car store of a Jeep dealership. While the dealer has been in business for decades the new car component they host tends to come and go (last one was Mitsubishi). Anyway, I like the look/practicality of the 500 and it would be on my short list if I was in the market for a new car but I would have concerns on their commitment maintaining a local franchise for parts and service (the next closest Fiat dealer is 100+ miles away).

    If they want to boost sales and gain exposure to the car buying public why won’t they offer the 500 in Chrysler dealerships as a Dodge (Neon?)? Most of the Darts they keep in stock are optioned/priced about $20K. The could slide the 500 at the $14/16K price point. And it would definitely boost confidence that parts and service would be available (plus I could get the oil changed at the Dodge store 15 miles away as opposed to 80 miles to the Fiat place).

    P.S. The name Neon would fit considering the cute/dorky shape of 500. Sorta like the first generation Neon…

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      Why can’t your dodge dealer work on the fiat?
      80 miles is rediculous either way.

      • 0 avatar
        April

        Doubtful my nearby small-town Chrysler service department would stock parts related to the 500. Even common things like oil and air filters much less doing any necessary warranty work (I’m not saying the car would be unreliable but just in case something came up).

        I just double-checked the Fiat webpage and there is a dealership 55 miles away. Still an unreasonable distance for me.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        The two franchises are separate, with different technician training, different customer handling, different branding. Chrysler and Fiat dealers share the same support network behind the scenes, but up front they are separate.

        Existing Chrysler dealers got first crack at Fiat franchises, but there are Fiat dealers that aren’t associated with a Chrysler dealer. Chrysler dealers cannot do warranty work on Fiats if they aren’t a Fiat franchise, however there is nothing stopping them from doing maintenance on them if they want to.

  • avatar
    Flybrian

    Fleeting the hell out of base Pops certainly doesn’t help either. Pick your color – $9-10,5k gets you one.

  • avatar
    Joss

    For some reason I think of the Fiat 500 and the Brompton bicycle as being of the same ilk. Fashion fad. Bring on the Hackney cab. I’m sure all will end as a bespoke, nostalgia 3 D print on a modular platform. The Chinese may whiff this already. You know rebooted 20th C badge engineering.

  • avatar
    TybeeJim

    One last comment. As appealing as the Abarth is to me, I cannot discount the new Ford Fiesta ST. It falls in the same price range (or slightly less) and it is faster, more technically advance than the Fiat and that certainly may prove to be a problem for Fiat in less parking restricted areas of the US.

  • avatar
    nrd515

    If I had to drive some kind of small/cheap car, I can think of so many I would pick on looks alone over the Fiat 500 turdmobile. It’s one of the most hideous cars made recently, IMHO. I finally drove one last week, and wasn’t impressed at all. It handled ok, but it’s slowness and looking at that dash was depressing.


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