By on February 12, 2015

2015 Fiat 500 RibelleFiat 500 sales plunged to an all-time low in Canada in January 2015, falling 69% to just 148 units. To be honest, 500 sales were lower in Canada on one occasion. In February 2011, only nine were sold. Then again, the 500 didn’t truly began to trickle into dealers until the following month.

Canadian sales of the 500 were at their strongest in 2012, when volume increased on a year-over-year basis every month and the 500 twice crested the four-digit barrier. In fact, the Fiat 500 ranked among Canada’s 20 best-selling cars in both March and April of 2012.

With the 500L sharing some of the Italian spotlight in the latter portion of 2013, 500 sales dropped 20% in 2013, a record-setting year for the Canadian auto industry. In 2014, another record-setting year for the industry, and with the 500 completing nearly four full years of Canadian availability, sales plunged a further 18%.

Third-quarter sales in 2014 were down 27%. Fourth-quarter volume slid 22%.

Over the last three months, only 598 500s have been sold in Canada. During the same period, FCA Canada sold 1014 copies of the Dodge Dart, a car which is suffering from its own chronic popularity decrease. (November-January Dart sales are down 62%.)

Fiat 500 North American sales chartOne would have guessed that Canada would be home to Fiat popularity in North America. And one would have been correct, at least initially. (Although the U.S. market is typically eight-to-ten times stronger than the Canadian, U.S. sales of the 500 have only been five times stronger since the car arrived. U.S. decreases haven’t mirrored the Canadian declines in their intensity, but they’re similar in terms of consistency, as the 500 fell 18% in 2013, 6% in 2014, and in nine of 2014’s twelve months.)

But while the Canadian market naturally favours more affordable and efficient cars and the Quebecers more specifically look fondly on even non-Euro subcompacts, the 500 wasn’t new when it arrived and it’s certainly not new now.

Meanwhile, the 500L is a dreadfully rare car, not just in comparison with, for instance, the Kia Soul, but the 500, as well. The 500X appears to be far more carefully targeted to modern tastes, both globally and in North America, but FCA’s own Jeep Renegade may stand in the way of initial 500X success. It won’t be a bargain, either, with all-wheel-drive 500Xs starting at $29,190 in Canada, before destination. You can have an all-wheel-drive CR-V for less.

Yet, there is a bright spot for the Fiat 500 in North America. With 511 December sales, the Fiat 500 set an all-time record in Mexico. One month later, with 422 sales, the 500 broke its January sales record.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures.

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34 Comments on “Fiat 500 Love Affair: Over In Canada, At a Passionate Peak In Mexico...”


  • avatar
    Joss

    Was it worth the NA chassis redux Sergio? Pricey with auto & air added to basic Pop and not that great on gas. Bespoke offerings but you usually have to pick from dealer inventory which usually isn’t your combo. I guess everybody who wants has pretty much got one by now. I’d prefer the new Golf.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    I would almost have to question the Fiat 500’s poor reception across the Americas because quite honestly it’s a remarkable little car. It’s amazingly fun to drive and its fuel mileage is more than acceptable for most drivers. I’ve been driving one now for over three months and I can’t really say there’s anything to complain about with it.

    That said, I will admit that I don’t drive it in snowy conditions (relatively common here during the winters), but that’s due to having a Jeep Wrangler to get around when the roads are bad. The 500 is reasonably comfortable riding and gives you a sports car feel of the road as you drive. The six-speed automatic works well under most driving conditions but if you want to avoid the occasional over/under shift on grades it’s very easy to just pull the shift lever to the left to put it into a manual mode where you control the shift points. In my own case I achieved a full 2mpg improvement over full automatic in hilly country doing this.

    So why the poor reception? Several reasons. But the biggest one appears to be its 40-year-old reputation for poor quality that just keeps clinging to it because people seem to be afraid of even trying it out. At least for now I’m going to say Fiat has built a car that no longer deserves that poor reputation and that people really need to reconsider their views about the car. Another reason is its tiny size.

    Yes, the 500 is a small car. It’s primarily meant as a city car and its go-kart-like agility is perfect for handling tight city congestion. It accelerates quickly, turns on a dime and gives you nine cents change when you stop. There’s almost nothing not to like about it in the city. But it seems the average American is afraid of its size. To many, bigger means better and they would rather drive huge road whale™ pickup trucks even though said trucks get half the fuel mileage and are cumbersome to maneuver in tight quarters. And of course, our current low gasoline prices help make those big trucks more appealing. But then, even now, I can fill the 500’s tank for around $20 while it still takes $40 or more to fill that pickup’s tank. When fuel prices rise again, that truck will drink $80-$100 every time they gas up while the Fiat 500 can go the same distance on $40 worth of gas.

    So is the “love affair” really over? Or has it just cooled a bit as low fuel prices seduce drivers towards big and luxurious? It seems the Mexicans understand that now is the best time to buy an economical car–while the prices are down. When gas prices go up, their value will rise again.

    • 0 avatar
      Secret Hi5

      I love the Fiat 500 nimbleness and aesthetics, but I’d never own one because of its flimsy interior bits. I think it was Edmunds’s long term 500 where one of the seat adjusters broke off quite soon after delivery. Pretty much everything inside feels cheap.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        I haven’t noticed any of that, yet. But then, my Fiat 500 only has about 6500 miles on it.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        It’s a car you can buy brand new for <$13K after incentives. Of course it feels cheap inside – it's a cheap car. But I will take cheap and cheerful over cheap and dreary any day. The parts are pretty cheap – my kid brother's dog chewed a sun visor on my car and it was only $65 for a new one (doggie is now banned). I have a friend who has put 50K+ on a '12 Pop and it still looks like new inside. She hasn't had any real issues with hers either.

      • 0 avatar
        kojoteblau

        I will agree that interior bits feel cheap. The HVAC knobs feel loose, and I would have sworn the armrest would snap early. After leaning on it for a year and so many miles though, it’s earned my confidence. I did however knock the trim under the steering wheel hard enough to break the screw mount point, but it was replaced free.

  • avatar
    BunkerMan

    I test drove a Fiat 500 when they first started selling them in Canada. I was in the market for a small car to use as a commuter vehicle. I don’t have a long commute (30 mins each way, all highway) but since my other vehicle is a F-150, a small car makes sense, especially with the $1.20/L+ gas at that time.

    My wife and I test drove the 500 with a manual, and it seemed fine in city driving. I took it up on the highway and was terrified. It was so small and slow I thought I’d be killed by all the SUVs and tractor-trailers on the road. I turned around at the first exit I came to and took it back to the dealer.

    I ended up buying a manual Hyundai Veloster because it just felt safer and could actually merge into traffic. That says something… I’ve since gotten rid of that in favour of a Ford Taurus, but that’s another story.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      You went from a Veloster to a Taurus? That sounds like a far more interesting story

      • 0 avatar
        BunkerMan

        Yep, after 1.5 years with a Veloster, I got tired of the engine and road noise, finicky touch screen, and all it’s other quirks. The panoramic roof made it too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer, even with the shade closed. My kids hated sitting in the back since it was so dark and hard to see out of. The backup camera would fog up on cold or damp mornings because of the stupid centre exit exhaust pipes, and you couldn’t back up easily without it. The camera would stop working entirely below -30 C. I could go on.

        Now I have sacrificed some fuel economy for a comfortable and quiet riding 2011 Taurus. I’m so much more relaxed when I get to work now. It’s been more reliable too, which is a bonus. :)

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      “I took it up on the highway and was terrified. It was so small and slow I thought I’d be killed by all the SUVs and tractor-trailers on the road.”

      — Small I’ll give you, but slow? Hardly. Maybe the difference was that you were rowing the gears instead of driving the automatic. I squirt by 18-wheelers like they were standing still when i want to pass, shooting from 65mph (100kph) to 85mph (130kph) in a matter of short seconds and whipping by with almost no effort on I-95. Quite honestly, if I didn’t use cruise control I would be running 80mph all the time and getting speeding tickets. By no means is the Fiat 500 Pop “slow”.

      • 0 avatar
        BunkerMan

        No, it was slow to the point of my wanting sails to hurry it along. I had been driving manuals for close to 20 years at that point, so I don’t think that was a factor either.

        I’m not talking about going from 65-80 MPH either. I’m talking about those short on ramps where you need to go from 20-70 MPH as quickly as possible. That’s what I encounter every day.

        I’ve owned my share of under-powered cars over the years (85 hp ’92 Saturn, and 1989 Escort come to mind), but that car stands out in my mind for its lack of get up and go.

        I’m sure it’s fine for some people, just not me.

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          I’ll admit I would have to experience your conditions for myself. But my experience leads me to still question your analysis since I’ve been known to out-run big V8 pickup trucks from a standing start for at least the distance of one of our ‘short’ on ramps. I’m usually at 55mph and letting off the throttle by the time it catches up. At less than half the weight of a pickup truck, it doesn’t take nearly as much power to get moving and with the low gearing of the automatic’s first gear, it MOVES when you hit the gas.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            I think anyone who thinks even a base 500 is slow has either never driven a car that is actually slow, or is among the majority of people who can’t find full throttle with a GPS. It’s a 1.4l Italian designed engine – rev the nuts off the thing and it will go just fine!

            As for feeling tiny – it’s about the same size as an original VW Golf/Rabbit, and weighs quite a lot more, but has half again the power. That was considered a perfectly acceptable family car back in the day. My Range Rover feels tiny when I am on the highway surrounded by semis too.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      I, too, test-drove a 500, with a similar experience.

      At 6’6″, I found the driver’s seat to be very comfortable, and the manual shifting easy. But the engine needed to be thrashed to make it go, and this was the same on the turbo Dart I drove later.

      One feature I really didn’t like was the concentric gauge cluster – it was hard to read (especially in daylight), and confusing in its layout. The rated gas mileage is not great, either.

      If the 500e was available in PA, I’d consider one. It is some reviewers’ favorite version of the 500 – but not Sergio’s.

      Having said all that, if the car was just for me, I still might consider a 500. But the back seat is a joke, and therefore out of the running.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        @SCE to…: “If the 500e was available in PA, I’d consider one.”

        Keep your options open. I expect the 500e to be available in Maryland and New Jersey within the next few years. With those two states and others nearby, not only will they need to make those cars available, but they’ll need to figure out how to make them profitable.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      A friend of mine bought one mainly for his wife to use for her long commute. He found the standard versions “dangerously slow”. They did like it overall so they replaced it with the Turbo version which he managed to get T boned in after having it only a few months. That was that for the 500 and they decided to go with a used Beetle diesel, not that long before gas prices collapsed.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    Not sure this is better than a Mazda 3, civic or fit, yes there cute but that only gets you so far, I would think most folks would take a Kia soul over this and I think but not sure the fiat is more $$$ than most of the cars I listed. Cheap gas is not helping them but that will change soon enough.

  • avatar
    heavy handle

    The 500 is not a great winter car, so maybe that explains the fading popularity. It’s fun to drive in the snow, but the heater is sub-par and the wipers aren’t very good. Also, it only holds a tiny amount of wiper fluid and will run out without any warning. On the plus side, reliability has been outstanding.

    I’m not sure that the 500x will do well in Canada. As far as I can tell, you can’t get manual and bluetooth in the same car (and definitely not leather, heated seats, etc). Looks like the product manager must have earned his/her stripes at Plymouth! That means you can either buy a base model with a feature set from 1995 for just over 20, or the next model up for almost 30! The Renegade in the same showroom gives you a whole range of configurations in between, and it will probably move ten times as many units.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      It’s kind of a quirky niche car. My thougths are that most of the people who wanted one have got one, plus there’s more competition in this space now. Since there’s larger mainstream cars available in the same price range, the appliance buyer will go to something like an Accent or Elantra. You’d have to specifically want the 500 as it doesn’t really stack up on a value basis.

      • 0 avatar
        heavy handle

        It’s a niche, but the niche should be fairly stable over time. It’s for people who want a small, stylish, and fun second car. Not sure the Accent or Elantra even compete: they are not stylish or fun.

        Maybe they’ve sold all they can to those who “had to have one,” and new sales represent the true stable size of the niche.

        • 0 avatar
          danio3834

          That’s what I’m saying, the 500 doesn’t compete with the Hyundais on anthing except for price. The price/value shoppers aren’t going for the 500, it’s the niche customer who likes the quirkiness of the car.

          Niche/specialty model sales typically spike near release, then stabilize at a low level once the novelty has worn off and I think that’s what we’re seeing here.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          “Maybe they’ve sold all they can to those who “had to have one,” and new sales represent the true stable size of the niche.”

          That is highly likely part of the reason for the drop in sales. The other reason is likely that many bought it as a fashion accessory and like any thing that is trendy it has a short shelf life.

          I’m not surprised at all as I predicted that it would fall on its face after a few years because of those reasons. Actually I expected it to happen a little earlier, so I guess I should say I’m surprised it did as well as it did for so long.

    • 0 avatar
      barrels007

      I bought one of the first 500 Fiats (#332/500 for Canada) in March 2011, 4 years ago. I still love this car. I have had no mechanical problems with it whatsoever.
      I live in the Northwest Territories (same latitude as Alaska) and have driven my Fiat 500 through 3 winters now, regularly in temperatures below minus 30 and even in the minus 40’s. (I use 0w30 oil in winter.) Everything works fine in the extreme cold. True at those temperatures, the cabin doesn’t get toasty warm, but the windows stay clear of frost and it’s comfortable.
      The car is pure fun to drive, even without the more powerful Abarth engine. It may not be quick, but it’s nimble and sure-footed.
      I annually drive it on the highway on a 3000 kilometer return trip and love the gas mileage. I can sit in the car for 12 hours at a time and not get stiff or a sore back. I can run at 110 to 120 km/hour (75 mph) all day and pass vehicles at will. No gusts felt from oncoming semis.
      Two things I had replaced under warranty, because of the extreme cold conditions in which I drive it – both in the interior. The driver’s front seat cover and the gear-shift boot started cracking due to their brittleness jumping into the car when the materials were at 30-40 below zero. (I don’t heat my car up before I drive it.) But that’s it for problems!
      There is only one potential problem for winter driving – that is the back streets of some cities who don’t plow the snow. With only 4 inches of ground clearance, deep ruts of ice could make things tricky.

      To get back to the article heading, I think Canada has reason to love the Fiat 500. I believed that when Fiat re-entered the North American market that they would do it right and build a car that could take what Canadian winters could throw at it. I was right. I can drive my little Fiat 99% of the time – the other 1% of the time I have the luxury of driving my SUV. For that 99% of the time, I am burning 40% of the gas that my SUV uses.
      Fiat 500 – this Canadian still loves you!

  • avatar
    Stumpaster

    Maybe it is because the Fiat is an insufferable POS. Just a hunch.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      Great insight!

      Is it insufferable because of how it makes you feel, or is there something mechanically wrong with the car that you would like to share?

      I’m asking because I know a Ram/Jeep senior tech who thinks the 500 is FCA’s best product. He wouldn’t buy one himself (he’s a truck guy), but he’s impressed with how overbuilt and problem-free it is. Just curious to know what you’ve figured out that he hasn’t.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        My Abarth is the only new car myself or any of my friends and family have ever bought that has had absolutely no issues at all in its first two years.

        They certainly are not for everyone, but just a fun little car. Cheap too in the real world.

  • avatar
    kojoteblau

    I’ve had my 500 pop for just over a year now. It’s my commuter car, with almost 50k miles on the clock so far. Mechanically, I’ve had absolutely zero issues, and my average is 39.5 mpg.
    I drive the manual, and I will say that driving up the mountain freeway I’ll have a hard time maintaining 75 in 5th gear if there’s a strong headwind. All it takes is dropping down a gear, and I’m fine. The car is quick, especially if you allow it to hit the higher rpms, and it is great fun when zipping through the canyon roads around here. Advice: Put it in “Sport” mode, don’t fear the rpms, and be ready to row. You’ll have a blast.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Yeah, kojo… That little engine loves to run in the 3k-4k rpms for upshifting under ‘normal’ driving and absolutely loves whipping up to 6.5K when passing on the freeway. Unlike bigger engines, you’re not thrashing it until you approach 7.5K. As I stated above, Sport mode with the automatic in manual shift has achieved almost 10% better fuel mileage than standard/automatic modes. My average economy isn’t as good, but then my freeway runs are only about 10 miles at a time and I’m running slow, two-lane roads the rest of the time, usually behind traffic. I’ve had a number of cars try to ‘race’ me after seeing a couple of my traffic-light starts, but even they seem surprised at how long it takes them to catch up if I actually put my foot down.

      No, I’m not saying it’s the fastest thing on the road, but it is remarkably quick and amazingly agile–perfect built for tight situations where quickness means more than power.

  • avatar
    scuzimi

    So I don’t know about “all” 500’s but my Abarth has been spot on now for 2.5 years. Not a single problem. I drove MINI Coopers form 2002 – 2012. Love them but n=had many, many warranty items. I’m at 25k and getting 29-31mpg. Decent 0-60’s, close to my MINI Cooper S 2004.

    In my opinion… “Tony Fixed It”…eh.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    I was impressed that the local Fiat dealer has progressed beyond the original shopping mall display and opened up in a former used car store. I guess he’s anticipating the big volume when those Alfas start rolling in.

  • avatar
    PocoBlu

    We’ve had our pop cabrio for over 2 years..and the Abarth cabrio for over a year and love them both. Wife loves driving hers and the Abarth. Def. not underpowered. Neither have ever felt slow or unsafe, and both are every comfortable even on long trips. Dealer support is what’s going to hurt Fiat. The place I got ours at have refused to top off fluid levels, and the service department hates dealing with them…and has even ignored the fact I’ve had an appointment to have the ecu updated. The cars themselves are great…it’s the dealerships that will kill the brand.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      @PocoBlu: Try to find yourself a dealership that is an exclusive Fiat “studio”. If their only product is the Fiat lineup, they’re going to be more likely to properly support the car.

      Additionally, don’t be afraid to address your dealership issue directly with Fiat. It’s amazing what kind of response you can get when you post a complaint about one of their dealerships on Fiat’s Facebook page and Twitter, hashtag #Fiat. Based on what you’ve said here, this is a ‘Tony’ that’s trying to revive Fiat’s old reputation.

    • 0 avatar
      kojoteblau

      I’ve gotten nothing but great service from my dealer. Its a standard CDJR dealer, they just built a Fiat studio building on the property. They’re gunning hard for an Alfa franchise, though. The service rep told me that Alfa dealer selection is going to be based strongly on customer service scores, so they’re pulling out all the stops.

  • avatar
    superchan7

    Now that the 500 Turbo and Abarth are available with an Auto transmission, people can stop complaining about the power.

    I don’t understand why my fellow Americans are afraid of putting the pedal to the floor. My Honda Accord’s gas pedal is tuned to an annoyingly jerky launch because of these people.

    The bog-standard 500 1.4L has no problems accelerating into a 65 mph highway merge.


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