Cain's Segments: The Fiat 500

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler
cain s segments the fiat 500

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. (

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.


AutoSept.2013Sept. 2012Sept.% Change9 mos. 20139 mos. 2012YTD % ChangeFiat 500 (500 & 500C)21264176– 49.1%28,99432,742– 11.4%Mini Cooper(Hardtop,Convertible, Clubman,Coupe & Roadster)36362897+ 25.5%32,37433,186– 2.4%Volkswagen Beetle(Coupe & Convertible)35542622+ 35.5%34,91821,566+ 61.9%—— —————Total9316 9695 – 3.9%96,286 87,494+ 10.0%—— — — — — —Fiat 500L 1031— — 3748 — —Mini Countryman 11912002 – 40.5% 15,596 15,345 + 1.6%Mini Paceman479— — 1665 — ——— — — — — —Total2701 2002 + 34.9% 21,009 15,345 + 36.9%
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2 of 56 comments
  • TybeeJim TybeeJim on Oct 08, 2013

    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.

  • Nrd515 Nrd515 on Oct 10, 2013

    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.

  • 2ACL If I'm going to battle 30-year-old BMW problems, then the car had better be representative of their greatest hits. I hear the M42 is a decent motor, but it just doesn't personify BMW excellence of the period. Also did some digging in the seller's other posts to try and determine the transmission type. . ."Test drive was magnificent, for an automatic, it eventually gets up to speed." Free-revving four + four-speed slushbox = definite pass.
  • SCE to AUX This is good news, as long as the Tesla plug can deliver the kind of power needed in the future. I'm not sure that's a settled matter.
  • SCE to AUX Hyundai/Kia/Genesis, if we're talking mfrs of consequence in the EV space.But to their credit, they've tried to remain distinct from the Tesla approach to everything. They've been quick to respond to the Biden IRA domestic content stuff for EVs (by building more US plants), so maybe they'll jump on this NACS bandwagon.
  • FreedMike I guess it's good to hear they finally made the third row livable - the one on the old RX was a joke - but, man, is this generic-looking.
  • Alan I read the front wheels are driven by the engine and the rear wheels by electric in the hybrid. I also find it odd it isn't offered as the 2.4 hybrid with 250kw on tap.