Abarth was founded in 1952 as a “one-stop-shop” for Fiat performance gear. What does that have to do with the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth? Nothing. Seriously. In 1971 Abarth was purchased by Fiat, by the 1990s the “brand” had deteriorated to a trim level on questionable hatchbacks and by 2000 it was “dead trim walking.” In 2007 Fiat decided they needed a performance brand once again and resurrected Abarth with the inexplicably named “Fiat Grande Punto Abarth” and (more importantly) a complete line of clothing and accessories. Despite the apparent soft start for the brand in the Euro-zone, Fiat tells us they held nothing back for the launch of Abarth in North America. Our own tame racing driver Jack took the Abarth for a spin on the track back in March but this time we’re pitting Italy’s hot hatch against a bigger challenge: the daily commute.
Gucci is no stranger to OEM trim packages for major manufacturers. The House of Gucci originally lent its unique Italian flavor to somewhat of an Intercontinental Bastard: a leaf sprung, Chevy Nova based Cadillac with a Spanish name. (Read More…)
With today’s official confirmation that Fiat’s US market brand boss, Laura Soave, has been replaced by Timothy Kuniskis, there’s more than a little attention being paid to the Fiat 500′s stateside sales and marketing.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?
After an early downturn in sales, it appeared that Fiat might be distancing its 500 from the Jennifer Lopez-dominated image that hasn’t been panning out so well. With the debut of the 500 Abarth at the LA Auto Show, the ad shown above kept the sex-factor high, but focused far more on the male market. Perhaps sensing a shift in direction, Bloomberg asked Fiat/Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne last week if the brand’s boss Laura Soave would be keeping her job despite the weak sales. Still undecided, Marchionne replied in the affirmative
For the time being.
That was last Wednesday. Over the weekend, something seems to have changed…
Fiat’s 500 may be flopping early in the game, but then, what do you expect from a car with barely 100 horsepower? Though I’m sure the Cinquecento is better with a stick shift, my brief time in an autobox version left me feeling that Fiat’s italophile morsel could use considerably more brio. Well, consider the problem solved, as the 160 HP Abarth version has finally been shown in US-market spec, and sales should start sometime early next year. And based on European reactions to the Abarth, it should be a little firecracker. So, enthusiasm solved… now Fiat just needs to do something about its high prices, uninspiring fuel economy and wretched marketing. Then everything will be just fine… although I still wouldn’t hold my breath for 50k units per year.
I was not the only person to predict that the Fit 500 would enjoy strong initial sales and then flop as the novelty wore off… and I was half right! Sales climbed early, peaking at around 3k units per month this summer before dropping precipitously in September and October. In August were still wondering if the 500 could become a classic, but as of November 1, Fiat 500 inventory stood at a staggering 184 days. Now, Automotive News [sub] quotes UAW officials as saying that
Chrysler Group has suspended production this month of the 1.4-liter FIRE engine that powers the Fiat 500 in North America because of slow U.S. sales of the subcompact
Throw “Sport” on a car, and I’m going to expect certain things from it. So I wasn’t kind to the first FIAT 500 I reviewed. But, as with people, I’m always willing to give a car a second take from a more amenable angle. To avoid bits I didn’t care for, I requested the base-level “Pop” trim with an automatic transmission. Chrysler counter-offered a top-level Lounge. In brown. With brown leather. Not quite what I asked for, but as a member of the Brown Car Appreciation Society (sans card, alas) I felt duty bound to accept.
Due to the state of the economy and the price of gasoline in America, it’s no small wonder small car sales are on fire. For those that wish to hide the fact that they have downsized for sensible reasons like lower operating costs, there is a segment of the market just for you: small retro cars. While everyone has tried their hand at this game from Chrysler’s PT cruiser, Chevy’s HHR and the continual resurrection of the VW Beetle, nobody seems to have hit the nail as squarely on the head as BMW with their Mini franchise and their 40,000 in yearly sales. What’s the new Italian owner of an American car company and dealer network to do? Sell a “minier” Mini-fighter of course.
I haven’t been to Italy, in 21 years. My cousins and I are having dinner together for the first time in 21 years. If I didn’t already know it, I’d have learned it now: males with Italian blood are obsessed with cars. My cousin Nicola even works for FIAT, in the seaside town of Termoli.
“Are there Fiats at Chrysler stores in Canada now?” he asks.
“Just the 500,” I inform.
“That’s not the real 500,” says Angelo, his younger brother. Two hours later, we’re in my Nonna’s garage. He pulls the tarp off a stunning, perfectly restored 1968 Fiat 595 SS Abarth. “Quest’è la vera Cinquecento!” he informs me.
It’s been over a quarter-century, so perhaps my memory grows hazy. But I recall enjoying the small, light subcompacts of the mid-1980s tremendously. They didn’t have much power. Power wasn’t a requirement, just a willingness to rev and to be tossed sideways through curves. I’ve spent the years since trying to recapture that experience. And failing. Too much mass. Too much tire. Even too much refinement. But FIAT’s not famed for refinement. And, at 2,363 pounds, the reborn 500 (pronounced “cinquecento”) is a quarter-ton lighter than today’s compacts. So perhaps my search is over?
Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat SpA and Chrysler Group, announced plans to bring the hecho en Mexico Fiat 500 to China. According to Gasgoo, Marchionne told reporters during the Detroit Auto Show that half of the 120,000 units built in the Toluca factory is destined for North America. The other half will be exported to China and Brazil. (Read More…)
Chrysler has announced that the 2011 Fiat 500 1.4 Pop will start at a base price of $15,500 (before destination) with Sport models starting at $17,500 and Lounge versions starting at $19,500. All models are powered by Fiat’s 1.4 liter MultiAir engine, making 101 HP and 97 lb-ft of torque… and luckily the little engine has only 2,400 lbs to move. The base model gets 15″ steelies, cloth and a CD player, while the Sport model adds 16″ alloys, remote keyless entry, cloth/vinyl sport seats and steering wheel, sport suspension and a lightly modified exterior. The range-topping Lounge trim gets 15″ alloys, a Bose stereo, the Microsoft-based “Blue&Me” hands-free media system, premium cloth seats, a glass roof, body-color side moldings and chrome accents as well as a standard automatic transmission and automatic climate-control. Check out the three versions at Fiat USA’s new site… and hit the jump for Fiat’s just-announced list of US-market dealers.
The Fiat brand returns to the US later this year, spearheaded by the Mexican-built 500 minicar and followed next year by Abarth and convertible versions of the A-segment hatchback. With some 200 Chrysler dealers in major urban centers preparing to add the Fiat brand to their portfolios, Automotive News [sub] reports that the brand hopes to reach at least 50k units and as many as 100k units by next year. For comparison, the MINI brand sold 45,293 units in the last 12 months (ending in June) and 48,562 in the previous 12 months.
Fiat retreated from U.S. shores in 1983, but that doesn’t stop die-hard Fiat fans from keeping their Fix-it-again-Tonys alive, and from congregating once a year. This weekend, the annual convention of the Club Fiat-Lancia Unlimited was held at the Biltmore in Asheville, NC. At their closing dinner, Laura Soave, Head of Fiat North America, made Fiat fans an offer they can hardly refuse: (Read More…)