By on March 26, 2008

08-fiat-500-press003.jpgFiat has been talking-up a stateside launch for Alfa Romeo, and even suggested manufacturing in the US or Mexico. Now Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne tells the Financial Times that his company is seeking suitable partners for North American production. "Nobody making anything in Europe is going to make profits in the US," says Marchionne, indicating that the losses on imported cars would be acceptable as long as a production partner could be found. Although the Financial Times makes much of Detroit's recent downsizing of North American operations, and stresses that The Big 2.8 have "overcapacity," other reports indicate that BMW is also a likely candidate for a FIAT partnership. For now, Marchionne is staying mum on the partner search, but makes it clear that BMW is on their radar… as competition. "We need to replicate the [BMW-owned] Mini phenomenon in the US," says the Fiat CEO. And yes, he does mean by bringing the popular Fiat 500 to the states. Toppolino!

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17 Comments on “Fiat Eyes Detroit Partnership...”


  • avatar
    menno

    How about Magna International?

    Just sell the little 500 under the Abarth name, not FIAT (“Fix It Again, Tony”) since FIAT had such a dismal rep in the states, and sell the upmarket, sporty Alfa Romeo cars.

    Actually, what am I even thinking? More to the point, what are the Italians thinking?

    Why bother? Unless you can build Japanese quality into the thing along with Latin flair, don’t even bother.

    Just ask Peugeot, Citroen, Daewoo, Toyota’s Diahatsu, MG (whoops nobody left to ask), Rover (whoops, same thing), Triumph (the Brits are all dead, aren’t they?), and now Isuzu how tough the US market is.

    Another money sink-hole coming our way…. The Chinese have a better chance of making it. At least the Chinese cars will be cheap, so when they break down, it’s not such a surprise as an expensive car going “phflahhhhh…..” and leaving buyers stranded.

  • avatar
    detroit1701

    Menno,

    I slightly disagree. Fiat / Alfa are known for their (mostly) attractive styling, and a few good engines (mostly developed with other European automakers). Why not ship body frames from Europe that meet US crash tests, put Ford or GM engines inside once on our shores, and sell them in boutique dealerships (like Mini has done)? Hell, sell them at a Volvo/Mazda dealership.

    You probably would not need to move that much product to make some money on the deal.

  • avatar
    dastanley

    Anyone remember the LeCar of the late 70s/early 80s? Tacky POS.

  • avatar
    CSJohnston

    Maybe GM can get some of that $2 billion back.

  • avatar
    Strippo

    Replicating the MINI “phenomenon” in the US is about as likely as replicating the Prius phenomenon or the original Miata phenomenon or the Beatles (Old) Beetle phenomenon. There’s just not enough demand for small, not necessarily bulletproof stylemobiles for that to happen. The space is occupied.

  • avatar
    i6

    “Nobody making anything in Europe is going to make profits in the US,”

    I disagree with that assertion. Given the smattering of very nice cars available across the Fiat lineup, from Alfas to Maseratis to Fiat itself, they could launch a small dealer network to distribute only the most desirable of their models (separately from Ferrari) that might hit just the right mix of volume and cachet to make the endeavour self-sustaining.

    Launching production in Amexica could only be feasible if it resulted in huge US sales volumes, pitting Fiat against Hyundai and Volkswagen. Do they really want to go there?

  • avatar
    Busbodger

    GM and Ford and possibly Chrysler aren’t going to be big sellers of small cars anytime soon.

    Don’t know about you folks but I haven’t been in a dealer where the sales staff didn’t turn up their noses to the smaller cars on the lot. Prob a question of which cars make them more profit but they came off as big truck good ole’ boys with an attitude that the small cars are for the alt.lifestyle crowd…

  • avatar
    Busbodger

    I for one really like the Fiat 500 (new AND old).

  • avatar
    Matthew Potena

    I think people are confusing the old Fiat with the current Fiat and its products. I will agree that from the 1970’s until they left the US market, generally speaking, Fiat and Alfa cars were junk. They had weak engines, rusted quickly and had terrible levels of fit and finish. Fortunately for Fiat, the Japanese also sold their cars in Europe, forcing Fiat, along with ever other European car manufacturer to raise their game. I only wish the big 2.8 had raised theirs as much as the Europeans. Recently while visiting relatives in Italy I drive some of the new offerings. I can state that they have come a long way. The new Panda is a big hit and the 500 is selling out all over Europe. The fit and finish is very good. Of course, the cars have personality and are fun to drive. Personally, as the current owner of a Mini (my 2nd) and a former Porsche owner, the 500 Abarth Esse Esse certainly appeals to me. If they bring it, I will buy…..

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Strippo,

    I disagree. Presently there is plenty of demand in that segment.

    BTW. Why partner with a domestic, when they could partner with a transplant and get a better engine?

  • avatar
    Bancho

    I agree with Matthew. It’s ridiculous for people to tout that domestic quality has made great improvements while disparaging the European brands as if hey weren’t facing Japanese competition as well.

    I’d love to see the 500 available here and the Grande Punto reviewed here on TTAC looks like it’d be a hoot to drive. I say bring back some of the Euro brands. In fact, they should shift some production here and export the vehicles back to Europe. Since we’re so intent on dragging our dollar to epic lows this has to seem an interesting perk to the European brands.

  • avatar
    Strippo

    I think people are confusing the old Fiat with the current Fiat and its products.

    Sure, but that’s not exactly a phenomenon unique to Fiat. Protecting a positive brand image, though challenging, is much easier and cheaper than rebuilding a tarnished one.

  • avatar
    Strippo

    Presently there is plenty of demand in that segment.

    It depends on how you define the segment. The MINI is overpriced for what you get. You’re paying for the brand image and production discipline that MINI has developed. I don’t see Fiat taking a serious slice of that pie while achieving MINI-like margins. Then again, any trend that makes it more likely that we’ll see a Mazda Verisa for sale here someday is fine by me.

  • avatar
    BuckD

    I don’t care how they do it, just bring on those small Euro-hatchbacks. I loves them things.

  • avatar
    Sanman111

    While I love the new 500, I wonder whether the U.S. market would go for it. It certainly helps that gas is as expensive as it is. However, I don’t think the populace will embrace a car that is smaller than a mini. I know plenty of people that think the mini is too small. Personally, I just want the suzuki swift sport to get here.

  • avatar
    yankinwaoz

    Why on earth would BMW allow Fiat to use them to compete with them in the US market?

    On the other hand, I think that Chrysler would be a perfect fit for both manufacturing and distribution. Fiat could get in there before a Chinese firm does.

  • avatar
    Strippo

    My mind’s eye keeps rewriting this headline as “Fiat Eyes Domestic Partnership”.

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