Topolino Trouble: Chrysler Dealers Losing Interest In Italian Brands

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer
topolino trouble chrysler dealers losing interest in italian brands

The enthusiasm for the Fiat coming to the market has diminished. At first, it was something that would be mixed in… now [Fiat-Chrysler is] going to have to present a compelling story and product to back me investing at least $1 million to build a new showroom

Everyone loves the Fiat 500, but Chrysler’s dealers aren’t exactly thrilled that they have to build brand new showrooms to sell the Italian (er, Mexican) subcompact, as witnessed by the quote above in the WSJ [sub]. Another dealer adds that he knows enough troubled MINI and Smart stores to be spooked by the prospect of dropping hundreds of thousands of dollars on what will clearly be a niche offering. Yet another calls it an “excellent opportunity,” but Chrysler needs to find 200 qualified dealers to make Fiat’s American adventure a reality. The credit and car markets, gas prices and Fiat’s less-than-stellar American-market legacy all conspire against the scheme. To say nothing of the poor historical precedents for Chrysler’s ballooning brand portfolio. But as usual, CEO Sergio Marchionne has it all figured out…

Marchionne explains:

the multibrand experience is already a way of life in the U.S…. In the case of GM, they had brands that were overlapping. Chrysler doesn’t have that problem. Jeep is unique, Dodge is a widely popular brand and Ram is about truck

See, Dodge builds mass-market cars with a somewhat sporty image, and Fiat builds fashionable niche cars with a somewhat sporty image, while Alfa Romeo builds fashionable sporty versions of mass-market cars, and Chrysler builds mass-market cars with a (allegedly) somewhat luxurious image. Meanwhile, Jeep builds SUVs (along with Dodge) as well as large and small crossovers (along with Dodge, Chrysler and Alfa), while Ram builds trucks. Isn’t it easy to see how overlap won’t be a problem? Oh, and speaking of overlap, there are already plans for four Phoenix, AZ-area Fiat-Alfa dealers, and Chrysler reportedly wants two dealers in Las Vegas. Haven’t we seen this movie before?

Join the conversation
2 of 35 comments
  • Undata Undata on Aug 28, 2010

    The replies are all over the place for this thread. The real problem is that people will believe anything, as long as it's not true. Look at the way people drive in this country, that is the real problem. How can anyone in their right mind still believe an SUV is cool?

  • Ciddyguy Ciddyguy on Aug 30, 2010

    Ed, I think you need to do a bit more research, the latest scheme is NOT to build an actual separate building right now, but to carve out a separate showroom area in the existing building and have a separate service area for the car(s) initially to get started and as the brand grows (hopefully), THEN they can build the all new franchise shop, this came about through confusion when the announcement was first brought up. I saw the list and noted some markets will get more than a couple of dealers, now they may NOT get all of those off the bat, it all largely depends on if the dealers can cough up the money to get things started and we'll know soon enough which dealers will sell the Fiat/Alfa Romeo brands in Oct. Also, they choose markets that have a high likely potential growth for small cars and Seattle/Tacoma is on that list and that's where I live.

  • RHD The price will also be a huge factor. Most websites expect it to start at around 50K. Add in the dealer fees, taxes, markup, options and assorted nonsense, it'll probably easily pass 60 grand. A Chrysler Pacifica starts around 38K. The real test will be if anyone with nostalgia for the old VW Van/Kombi/Station Wagon/Bus/Etc. will be motivated to actually buy one. Once the new and unique wears off, its innate excellence (or lack thereof) will determine its long-term success.
  • Carlson Fan I think it is pretty cool & grew up with a '75 Ford window van so I can attest to their utility. $60K is a lot for any vehicle and I'm not convinced EV's are ready for prime time for a number of reasons. It would make an awesome 2nd or 3rd vehicle in a multi-car household but again the price would keep most from considering it.I agree with the other comments that those who have to have it will buy it and then sales will drop off. Offer a panel version for the commercial market, that could have possibilities.
  • Wjtinfwb Panther Black? or Black Panther? Shaped like a decade old Ford detectives sedan? Seems like an odd way to send out your marquee car...
  • Kwik_Shift Instead of blacked, how about chromed? Don't follow the herd.
  • Carlson Fan Nicest looking dash/gage cluster ever put in any PU truck. After all these years it still looks so good.