By on August 5, 2017

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Lusso - Image: FCAJuly 2017 was the first month in which we could ascertain the year-over-year U.S. sales direction of the one-year-old Fiat 124 Spider.

That direction is down.

In fact, the rate of year-over-year decline — 124 Spider sales fell only 6 percent in a passenger car market that was down 15 percent — was by no means severe. But it’s yet another sign that when American roadster buyers want a Mazda Miata, they buy a Mazda Miata.

2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club - Image: MazdaMiata sales increased for an eighth consecutive month in July 2017, a 13-percent uptick powered in part by availability this year of the MX-5 RF. Through the first seven months of 2017, Mazda’s Mazda is selling nearly three times more often than Fiat’s Mazda.

The 124 Spider, meanwhile, has seen inventory levels rise to uncomfortable levels as droptop season arrived in full and demand diminished. July’s 450 sales represented a four-month low for the Fiat convertible, but according to the Automotive News Data Center, FCA’s Fiat stores had a 102-day supply of roughly 2,000 124 Spiders heading into July, up from 84 days in June.

With few sales coming from the aged 500, the all-but-forgotten 500L, and the increasingly unpopular 500X, an additional one or two 124 Spider sales per dealer in an average month is of little benefit to Fiat’s U.S. efforts. Since its arrival last summer, the 124 Spider has produced 5,425 U.S. sales. Back on home soil, the 124 Spider sells at a rate of roughly 650 European units per month, about half what the MX-5 manages in Europe.

To be fair, the 124 Spider isn’t just a Mazda MX-5 Miata twin. Different engines are just the start. The cars are tuned to handle markedly different. And the 124 Spider looks, shall we say, different.

But it appears as though the 124 Spider may be different in the wrong ways. Unnecessarily immature ad campaigns won’t help, either.

[Image: FCA, Mazda]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Autofocus.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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36 Comments on “Mazda MX-5 Miata Sales Are Rising in America; Fiat 124 Spider Isn’t as Lucky...”


  • avatar
    Trend-Shifter

    I believe most Miata MX-5 sales are older return customers that had a Miata or two in their history, not new conquest customers.
    There were a lot of old Miata’s sold and a lot of happy customers.
    That is a large pool of potential customers.
    The pool of returning customers for the 124 would be less and maybe not quite as happy.

    The footprint of the Fiat dealer network could also be a factor even though everyone I ask says they like the look of the 124 better.

    With a Mazda at 155 horsepower and Fiat at 160 horsepower there is no draw for new customers.
    I think they should have come out of the gate with a 200+ horse-power naturally aspirated base engine to get some rave reviews and get some younger conquest customers. It’s 2017, not 1989 when you were being compared to an MG.

    • 0 avatar
      WheelMcCoy

      A neighbor has the Fiat 124 and it looks good, but by heart belongs to Mazda (currently drive a Mazda3) and I hope to have the RF one of these days.

      As for more HP, that’s where physics meets economics. The Miata and Fiat both have respectable 0-60 times (6.x seconds), and even more respectable handling. Adding HP would require bigger brakes, add weight, and a host of other changes.

      Those looking for a higher HP convertible that maintains superior handling are probably looking at a Porsche Boxster and more $$$.

      Those looking for a higher HP convertible that keeps to a budget are probably looking at a Mustang convertible that gives up a bit on handling but offers a backseat.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        “Adding HP would require bigger brakes, add weight, and a host of other changes.”

        This is true but I still think it would have been worthwhile if the 124 came with either the 3.6L V6 (if it fits) or the 2.0T from the Alfa, even if that meant a heavier and more expensive vehicle. I doubt such changes would push the price to the $57K starting point of the Porsche.

      • 0 avatar
        jpolicke

        Although I prefer the styling of the Fiat, the modest bump in power doesn’t compensate for having to accept the vulnerabilities of both a turbocharger and a timing belt. To say that the next step up the performance ladder is a Boxster is absurd. I would have been satisfied if the 124 simply came with the Mazda 2.5, which can’t weigh much more than the 2 liter. The extra weight from slightly bigger brakes would be minimal and worth the sacrifice.

        • 0 avatar
          Trend-Shifter

          “I would have been satisfied if the 124 simply came with the Mazda 2.5, which can’t weigh much more than the 2 liter. The extra weight from slightly bigger brakes would be minimal and worth the sacrifice.”
          =============
          Exactly, but also include the Miata.
          Then the special edition can have a turbo 2.5.

          • 0 avatar
            jpolicke

            I’ve already given up hope for Mazda to go that route, but if they’ve already agreed to build cars on contract for Fiat they could arrange to supply the 2.5 and Mazda transmission. It probably would have taken less effort to go with a Mazda powertrain than to adapt the Fiat one.

          • 0 avatar
            carlisimo

            The 2.5L is apparently just too big; the car was designed in Japan for the 1.5L, and Mazda US got them to shoehorn the 2.0L but it was a tight fit.

            A lot of engine families use the same block and just use a wider bore to get more displacement, but then you have different bore/stroke ratios and it takes a lot of work to make each version as efficient as it can be. Mazda’s 2.5L is basically their 2.0L engine but scaled up in every dimension. That should mean that Mazda’s 2.0L can be smaller and lighter than some other companies’ but it doesn’t help the 2.5L.

      • 0 avatar
        WheelMcCoy

        I’m not a fan of turbo, and I admit a 2.5L naturally aspirated miata could be interesting. Power and torque would be available sooner, but would it crest early and be done at 5000 rpm or so? The 2.0L is more fun to wind out, a trait that is arguably more fun and suited to the miata personality.

        And don’t forget, Mazda was obsessed with weight, to the point of using 4 lug nuts per wheel instead of 5. On the business side, I’m sure emissions and fuel economy also played a role on choosing the 2.0L.

        As for a Porsche Boxster, a used one can be had for about the same price as a new Miata (I’d go for the new Miata).

        • 0 avatar
          rpn453

          None of the current Skyactiv engines are terribly rev-happy anyway. The 2.0 peaks at 6000 rpm, while the 2.5 peaks at 5700. The more conventional 2.3 in my ’04 3 peaks at 6500 rpm.

          I’d think the 2.5L would be a popular option if available. Maybe it would require the rest of the drivetrain to be beefed up though, and they decided that the car is better if it’s kept lighter. Or maybe they just didn’t think the investment in a second powertrain was economically viable.

          Anyway, the 2.0L has enough power to keep me interested in the car.

          • 0 avatar
            Driver8

            The 2.5 is also taller, meaning a taller hoodline and beltline, and then bigger wheels. In the MX5 it also sits pretty far back, so you may have firewall issues.

            There are reports of cammed/flashed 1.5’s with power) output of the stock 2.0 and near 8k redlines. Add some lightness and you might close in on 2100#. I’d be game for that.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    Does anyone here believe that Fiat will still be present in the US (or anywhere) in the next few years? The 124 and 500x have been pretty well reviewed, and the sister versions are doing well, but nothing kills sales like a widely held view that the brand is destined to be an orphan.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      They might be around, but the predominant language spoken at their headquarters would most likely be Mandarin. Hey, maybe the quality would improve? :^)

      • 0 avatar
        dmoan

        In China and India Fiat has no presence because of shoddy quality. Jeep compass in India and they are going out of the way to show no link to Jeep and Fiat. So I doubt any Chinese manufacturer would be willing to buy Fiat.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      I see no reason for Fiat here in the states. Overseas they sell a more of a full line of products. However those are typical Euro cars: small city runabouts. Here in the states you need bigger and more powerful.

      I was just talking to someone who stopped by a dealer the other day and was “amazed by their new convertible”. Then I told him its a Miata. Its not good when your biggest draw is a badge job from another company.

  • avatar
    jmiller417

    I want the 124 to succeed, but my wallet loves it when great cars fail. The lease deals on the 124 were already way, way better than the Miata’s last time I looked.

    • 0 avatar
      Drew8MR

      There must be 20 or 30 on the lot at the dealer on my way to work (So many Guilias as well, dealer principal must be pounding whiskey like water) and some of the window sticker lease deals are down to $148 or something ridiculous.

  • avatar
    hamish42

    and to think that this whole Miata/124 thing happened because a Japanese car manufacturer ripped off the design of a little sports car called a Lotus, designed by a genius named Colin Chapman. He would be amazed at his legacy.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    That’s a shame. I easily find it the looker of the two. The Miata isn’t Prius bad, but it isn’t good looking to me, not at all. Fiat fixed the styling and gave it a punchy engine, seems like it would be a win.

    Touching on what Trend_Shifter said: How many Fiat dealers vs. Mazda dealers in the States? If that 102-day supply is too far out of reach for a lot of would-be buyers, people may just choose the Mazda to be closer to buying and servicing it.

    • 0 avatar
      Dave M.

      Agree on the looks – the Fiat I feel is truly a beautiful car, but I always felt the original 124 was perfectly designed as well.

      I’d be all over one if I was 4″ smaller in both directions….

      • 0 avatar
        th009

        The original is lovely. This one is too chunky for my liking, and ends up being simply a Miata pretending to be a 124.

        Not many dealers, and none of those (Dodge/Jeep/RAM/Fiat) dealers have any experience or spare parts for Mazdas.

        • 0 avatar
          Jean-Pierre Sarti

          the Miata NC transmission has proven too be very reliable as opposed to the recent ND transmission. really the only thing on the 124 to cause worry is that dang 1.4T engine. reviews have been mixed to negative from what i see regarding that engine. as far as the other bits, i feel confident enough that most of it is mazda to think the engine is the weakest link.

          as far as the chunkiness, it’s a modern car and modern car safe so i am willing to give it some slack.

  • avatar

    It’s probably due to FCA employee leases but here in the Detroit area I’ve noticed more 124 Spiders than the new gen Miata.

  • avatar
    Fred

    I was going to say price, but the Fiat looks to be significantly cheaper. At least based on a quick look at cars.com

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    How much of the drop in the US auto market is down to people rejecting the new malaise? I don’t want to spend money on a small displacement turbo motor. Why would I buy a Fiat when the Miata is one of the few mid-market priced cars left with a naturally aspirated engine? Maybe a large percentage of the people who buy new cars aren’t as dumb as the people who voted for someone to tell them what to buy.

  • avatar
    dmoan

    America gave Fiat a chance and they blew it with terrible quality with Fiat 500 and it didn’t get any better with 500L and X. It’s no suprise Fiat is all but dead in US/Canada and Sergio wasted billions rather introduce new products for Chrysler/Dodge.

    On the bright side reading thru some of issues people are running into with Giuilia and Ghibli in forums is a great time pass.

  • avatar

    Just remember Serigo’s Path to Success

    1) Release innumerable Alfa and Fiat models
    2) Destroy brand equity in marginally-profitable yet full-amortized platforms
    3) F*ck Chrysler/Dodge
    4) ?????
    5) SWEATER DAY!!!!!

  • avatar
    Joss

    Spaghetti Leyland. Fat yanks who seek the experience should opt for julia or the Fiat. While Euro buyers won’t notice taste difference from their own bread.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Miata.net is an a great site for Miata owners. Got a problem? Look in the forums. Super-helpful Miata fans and even some great how-to videos. A strong history of owner support and knowledge. Smartest thing FCA should’ve done is say “Nope, Mazda builds the 124. What parts we supply, Mazda rechecks. Most the parts are Mazda anyway.”

  • avatar
    rolando

    If I would get a daily driver, I’d get the Mazda, but wish I had the Fiat, until the fiat broke down. I really prefer the Fiats looks and extra power, but I don’t have faith in. its reliability.

  • avatar
    Tim

    I test drove the MX-5 and loved it. Before I buy, though, I have to test the competition. I drove down to the Fiat dealership. I asked if they have a 124 with a stick.

    “They don’t make them with a stick.”
    “Yes they do. You can configure one on the web site.”
    “Look, I’m not going to sit here and argue with you. We sell them. You can’t get one with a manual transmission.”

    Shame, because the Fiata had a color I loved, and the styling tickles me more than Mazda’s style. But I’m not buying something without a test drive, and I’m certainly not buying one from a salesman who’s a dick. Instead, I drove back to the dealership I bought my first MX-5 from, and bought my second – a 2017 Club w/ Brembo.

    To anyone local, avoid Perkins Motors in Colorado Springs.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    The Fiat dealer network is pretty sparse around me. We had a standalone dealer who sold the franchise and it’s now a combined Jeep-Chrysler-Fiat building an hour away. Interestingly, the same thing happened where I last lived. I am now in Michigan and had been in California.

    On top of that, every single 124 Spider they have had in stock (and many are still there) are automatics. Perhaps it’s just this location or did FCA screw up in the mix badly again like they did when the 500 was first released?

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      I bought a 2000 Miata at the end of April. Occasionally I still check CL to see what’s available, and I’ll see cars that were for sale back when I bought mine. No one wants to buy an automatic Miata.

      Funny thing is, when I sold my previous Miata, all the blue book/KBB were telling me that an automatic Miata was worth more. That was pretty much the end of any respect I had for those publications.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    I spent a week with the 124 and ended up loving it. The torquey engine makes it very drivable. Cruising along on the highway in 6th gear only warrants a downshift when hard passing is needed, and it has great mid range power and response. It’s ergonomic for my 6’2″ 200lb self, handles incredibly well and can fit a reasonable amount of cargo for a small convertible. It’d take the 124 over the Miata for the engine.

  • avatar

    Sadly, another Timothy Cain hit piece highlighting his anti-Fiat bias. For a guy that loves crunching numbers, he conveniently fails to mention that Fiat only has 200 dealers when comparing sales to the competition that has 600+. No mention that Mazda is an established brand with a huge following. Two facts that are germane to the conversation and could give a little insight or some balance to the piece. The remark about the looks of the car also betrays what’s going on in his head. I expected more from him.

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