By on May 31, 2018

Image: FCA

Pity the poor Fiat brand. The Italian marque’s return to the North American market was like a musket left out in the rain: The priming pan went up in a flash but the main powder charge failed to ignite.

Once the recession-battered public got its fill of the tiny, retro Cinquecento in 2011 and 2012, it was nowhere but down for the brand, despite Fiat Chrysler’s attempt to scratch buyers’ growing crossover itch with the admittedly attractive Jeep Renegade-based 500X. It doesn’t look like the 124 Spider’s gonna do the trick, either. A niche model from a niche brand with cratering sales and a massive backlog of unsold vehicles? That’s no Roman holiday.

So it came as no surprise when rumors cropped up of the brand’s looming North American demise at the hands of outgoing CEO Sergio Marchionne. Will you miss it?

In its present form, perhaps not. Not for this writer, anyway, though I’ll admit to only running in terror when a 500L drives by (a rare circumstance, for reasons stated above). The 500 was impossible to drive without cocking my head to the right at an unpleasant angle, and I’ve never been behind the wheel of the Spider (which at least boasts unlimited headroom for its occupants some of the time). We’ve had a few good things to say about the stillborn 500X.

Still, you don’t hear teenage boys lusting over an Abarth anything.

2017 Fiat 500L - Image: FCA

If the rumor becomes official on Friday, it spells the end of a longstanding headache for FCA dealers. In 2013, Fiat franchisees were crying out for new product. By 2016, they were begging for salvation. FCA responded by allowing standalone stores to shack up with neighboring Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram dealers, then poured on the cash for those left unwed. Trims got the axe, then prices. Standard turbocharged power in the 500 was the last gambit for the struggling brand.

There seems to be no way of getting buyers interested in Fiat, making its demise an inevitability. And it’s hard to miss what’s barely there. What does spark regret, however, is promise left unfulfilled — the departure of a quirky foreign brand that could have been so much more, had its parents’ interests not lay elsewhere.

In a past post, I laid out a couple of possible product solutions, though my dream of a low-cost purveyor of funky rear-drive sedans and coupes was a pipe dream in today’s market.

So, will there be a single tear shed if Marchionne chops the brand tomorrow?

[Image: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]

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72 Comments on “QOTD: Ciao, Arrivederci – Can You Muster a Tear if Fiat Gets the Axe?...”


  • avatar
    cbrworm

    We bought a 500 Abarth when they first became available. It was a fun little car that held our interest for about 9 months. Other than the idea that it is a neat Italian car reminiscent of our youth, I feel nothing for the brand in the US.

    • 0 avatar
      MoDo

      I also bought an Abarth, fun car indeed but axing the brand in NA is the right move to make, they simply never caught on. I actually dated an Italian chick a couple years ago that had ordered a 500L and waited months for it to show up, only to despise the thing and trade it in on a BMW within 6 months of ownership – that about sums up Fiat in North America. I still have the 2015 Abarth, maybe I’ll put it in a barn and forget about it for about 20 years lol

    • 0 avatar

      I thought the Abarth was a blast to drive. Most surprising drive I ever had actually. However, I drove it because it was traded in at the dealer I worked at and otherwise wouldn’t have ever bothered. I think most folks simply missed the chance to fall in love. That being said, driving a normal 500 afterwards was a depressing disappointment on every level.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        Maybe because I didn’t drive an Abarth first, I found the 500Pop to be surprisingly lively. No, the thing only had 101 horses but it’s one heck of a lot quicker than my ’97 Ranger at 112 horses. I can only imagine the feeling of the turbo or the Abarth and if I didn’t need an open bed vehicle plus at least one AWD/4×4 vehicle, I’d certainly be going for another 500… probably the turbo, now.

  • avatar
    kcflyer

    So “Fiat Chrysler” won’t sell Fiat’s or many Chryslers….makes sense

  • avatar
    TR4

    What FIAT needs is an updated version of this:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiat_S76_Record

    28.5 liters should be big enough even for Americans!

  • avatar
    Nick_515

    I hope it’s addio instead of arrivederci this second time around/

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    Other than the hot tv spots with Catrinel, these cars never interested me.

  • avatar
    kcflyer

    Maybe Fiat Chrysler should change their name to Jeep Ram and 2 Dodge cars.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I’ll actually shed a tear. Whatever you think of Fiat, the fact is that they sell funky, silly vehicles that are fun to drive. In a market overstuffed with stupid lookalike CUVs, that’s a loss.

    I think the only good news here would be for Mini, which will probably pick up some sales. I hope they get their act together (hint, guys: lower prices and more performance).

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      I will too. I was happy to see that there was finally a break in the hegemony of the UASC (Universal Asian Small Car) and something that undercut Mini by a fair amount. Maybe they should have had more commercials with Catrinel, too…

      I guess the good news is, any Fiats that are leftover will go out with fire sale prices.

      Maybe I will finally get my Abarth…

    • 0 avatar
      87 Morgan

      Funky silly vehicles that were fun to drive….so a Neon.

      IMHO the 500 would have sold very well under the Dodge Neon naming and SRT for the Abarth. What you described was what a Neon was; funky and fun to drive. The price point was nowhwere near Mini gor the base model, sub 20k i believe. Sergio screwrd this deal up every way he could.

    • 0 avatar
      threeer

      Freed…this. One million times. This. I still smile each and every time I see an Abarth, and make sure my car window is down so I can hear it snarl and pop as it goes by. That our roads more and more are starting to congeal around CUVs that all look, more or less, alike is all the more reason to mourn if Fiat goes away. The Abarth remains on my list of eventual fun cars to own when the last kid departs the best…

    • 0 avatar
      RSF

      Fun to drive? These are some of the slowest cars around.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Thumbs up to FM and geo. I, too, will miss them if they disappear again. Personally, I blame the franchisees more than Fiat for the fall but Fiat made its own mistakes by not offering any of the Panda-based models. My wife really wanted the Panda off-roader over the Renegade we bought and I want the Strada pickup.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    In a word, No.

    I understand that Fiat is or was very popular in Europe, but it has never been popular here. I don’t think the Fiat 124 Spyders made much intrusion to sales of British sports cars back in the day, either.

    It just seems that FCA has no idea of where it wants to go or how to get there.

    • 0 avatar
      vehic1

      I remember seeing Fiats, MGs, and Triumphs when I was a kid; I thought they looked sporty, and they were popular with college students. Before long, I noticed many of them stranded along the roadsides – and a few years later, they all left the US market entirely. Renault and Alfa Romeo hung on a bit longer – then they abandoned the US, too; after that, only the Germans, Swedes, and luxury Brit and Italian makes were still here.

  • avatar
    junkandfrunk

    I just can’t figure out why they never brought the freaking Panda over. It would be perfect in the age of the mini-CUV.

  • avatar
    earthwateruser

    I like my ’14 Abarth enough that if FCA kills Fiat in the U.S. I might actually buy a new 2019 version while dealer stock is good and just hold onto it for a while. I bought my gray one lightly used and it’s a fun second car, but my preference would be a pearl white one with a sunroof and those sweet bronze colored 17″ wheels. But it seems the question now isn’t WHEN the 2019s will arrive, but IF. At my local FCA dealer, the Fiat studio has already been turned into a Jeep showroom and the only Fiats to be found are a couple of lingering overpriced 124s or customer cars there for amazingly poor service.

  • avatar
    turbo_awd

    Fun to drive if you’re single and/or newly married. Saw nothing “fun” for families who are (or will soon be) close to 6 feet. And even then, when your “fun” model gets 160-170 hp.. and only ~30 mpg combined in today’s market??

    Kind of like the Mini – the only “fun” version is the JCW, which gets up to $40k in a hurry.. At which point, it’s not that fun anymore compared to STI/CTR/FoRS, and not very reliable..

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      And I think this post tells us why Fiat failed – their cars were more loaded with go-fast personality than they were with actual go-fast equipment (Abarth excepted).

      The 500x is a perfect example. I love the way it looks, and the chassis is nicely buttoned down, but it’s underpowered. With a decent engine, at a mid-20s price point, it’d have been a unique offering in a segment full of blah vehicles, and could have carved out a niche for itself.

      At a minimum, if FCA had handled the brand correctly, it’d have been Mini at a lower price, which would have been a really good thing. At a minimum, they’d have chased Mini back to Jolly Old England.

      They really blew it.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    At least Fiat, during it’s short run, didn’t balloon in size like MINI did. A Cooper passed me the other day, for a second I thought it was a Pontiac Catalina.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Well, they needed to be a touch bigger.

      But mainly, they need to be a LOT cheaper. I checked out a Mini a few weeks ago – thirty large for one with a freakin’ three-banger turbo. That’s stupid. The salesman more or less agreed.

      • 0 avatar
        TMA1

        I was on Mini’s website a few weeks ago, can’t believe what happened to that brand. Gone are most of the individual configuration options, replaced with trim levels. Be prepared to pay an additional $4,000 to move up a level if you want anything besides the three colors available on the base model.

        • 0 avatar
          Sub-600

          I used to enjoy playing around on the MINI configurator on the website, there were *literally* millions of combinations. You’re right, the options are nil now. Start checking boxes on those things and you’re quickly in Cadillac territory too, they are pricey. I do like the new Union Jack tail lamps though.

      • 0 avatar
        Wizerud

        What’s stupid is believing that’s the price you have to pay. I got $6.2k off without even asking!

  • avatar
    RSF

    Fiat has been dead here for a long time. Just ask any of their dealers.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Doesn’t Fiat understand their home market is fiercely protected?

  • avatar
    Pierre

    That would be a sad day for me. I smile every time I see one on the road. I’ll try and make room in my garage for one before they leave just because. the problem is I don’t have a garage and I already own 2 cars :)

  • avatar
    darex

    Further evidence that Marchionne ain’t no Carlos Ghosn, and never was! Seems to me, his dismal failures far outweigh his successes, for which the jury is still out.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    No, none shed last time and definitely none this time.

  • avatar
    tonyola

    I didn’t shed a tear back in 1982 when Fiat said goodbye the first time, especially since all that remained were the old and aging sports cars plus the nasty little Ritmo/Strada. I won’t shed any tears now.

  • avatar
    smartascii

    Of course it’s sad. But we don’t live in the kind of world where average people have the resources to have a second or third car “just for fun,” and even if they do, between the roads, congestion, and the political assault on cars as the cause of all our environmental woes, people with the means don’t really do that anymore. And FIAT’s most compelling offerings are definitely extra cars for most people. The 500L and the 500X aren’t competitive, and they traded on a brand value that didn’t have any equity, which is why the Renegade sells and the 500X doesn’t. Add to that the fact that whe the 500 launched in 2011, it was an older platform that had already been on sale elsewhere for several years, and nothing significant has been updated since…

  • avatar
    Kalvin Knox

    I like the 500. I’m way too big to fit into one properly though.
    They make me happy when I see them, and it’s a shame that they’re going away.

  • avatar
    Fred

    7 years without a serious visible update, yea even the Fiatistas (just made that up) lost interest. From what I understand Fiat doesn’t sell much outside of it’s home country.

  • avatar
    jh26036

    3 years in 59k miles on my 500 Abarth. Been a great ownership, really enjoy operating the car on a daily basis even in heavy Boston traffic. I probably won’t shed a tear though. I do plan on keeping mine until the CPO warranty ends in 20k miles.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Oh, I’ll generate a tear all right; a tear for all the Americans who refused to believe Fiat was improved over its 40-year-old reputation and a tear for the lawsuit that forced FCA to retain franchisees who worked against any real support of the Fiat product in more ways than I care to count.

    But finally, I’ll generate a tear for FCA itself, since they chose to focus so much on the 500 that they flat ignored models which would have been far more popular.

    • 0 avatar
      syncro87

      I would agree that the Fiats sold in the U.S. today are improved over the ones (a few) Americans remember from 40 years ago. The problem is that the overall quality/reliability bar is so much higher these days that mere improvement is not good enough. You have to improve to be at least the average of current day, and I don’t think Fiat ever got there. Not being a complete pile of crap, when we used to be doesn’t move the needle enough.

      Actually, let me add to that. Given that Fiat has a less than stellar reputation in the USA, they had to be better than average in dependability to have a shot here. When you have a bad rep, you have to really kill it and wow people to dispel it. They, by every measure I’ve seen and from perusing various forums, never got there. They were “ok” at best, which is not good enough for an upstart brand with a negative reputation trying to get back into a hyper-competitive market.

      Your other points have merit. FCA focused too much on the 500, franchisee support might have been weak (but can you blame them, really?), etc.

      I’m sad to see Fiat go. They were oddball cars, and the US doesn’t have enough oddball cars. American roads are one big sea of samesville.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Well…

      1) Fiat was improved, but if you read the reliability ratings, it’s not improved enough. It consistently ranks dead last in terms of reported reliability (and, yes, these days, that doesn’t mean a car is junk or outright unreliable the way something like an ’80 Citation was, but the numbers are what they are).

      2) I’d say the mistake wasn’t centering the brand around the 500, but rather not making the 500 and its’ offshoots quick enough. I’m still convinced that if they’d introduced the 500x with a hot engine, and sold it for under 30 grand, they could have murdered Mini. And the 500 two door should have had the turbo standard from day one.

      If the cars had been hotter, then the reliability ratings wouldn’t have mattered quite as much.

      • 0 avatar
        bobtheowl

        As a former Fiat 500 owner, I’ll agree with the reliability issues. With less than 40,000 miles, I had an ignition coil go out (which cause the computer to cripple the car so bad it had to be towed to the dealer), most of the suspension replaced on the front driver-side tire, and bits of the interior replaced.

        That being said, I absolutely loved that car. It was always a blast to drive, looked great, and you could fit that thing anywhere. I just didn’t trust it as my primary car, especially since the warranty was about to run out.

        I’ll definitely be sad if/when they decide to stop selling them. It’s always sad to see such a fun car go away.

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          As a former Fiat 500 owner, I DIS-agree with the “reliability issues”; in over two years of ownership (wife needed something bigger despite how much she loved her little car) we never had any issues with reliability.

          That suspension thing sounds like someone crashed one heck of a pothole and never had any interior bits replaced… though we did get a crack in one of the sunroof channels (we used that every chance we got.)

  • avatar
    TW5

    I’ll be sad that CAFE is effectively making FIAT leave the US market.

    FIAT vends low-margin low-volume models in the US. Their survival and expansion are already difficult enough. Now the Feds are requiring them to add $2,000 – $3,000 on every MSRP to cover hybrid powertrains and other CAFE compliance devices.

    Europe doesn’t use footprint-specific regulations, and FCA is struggling just to achieve CAFE compliance for its US brands. What’s the point adding another manufacturer to the list? Pack up and go home.

  • avatar
    TMA1

    I will miss the Spider. I still prefer the Mazda version, but the Fiat comes with a choice of actual colors, has a cool Abarth version, and dealers are willing to come down on price. Maybe FCA will make it an Alfa like their original intention.

    I’ll miss the wide spectrum of colors that the 500 came with. How such a low margin car can have so many color options, I just don’t understand. The world will be more greyscale without the 500 around.

  • avatar
    jagerninja

    I will miss the idea of Fiat in America, but I won’t miss the cars. Coming to America with nothing but the 500 was a mistake, and the 500 hasn’t really been updated since its launch in 2007. The rest of their small lineup, with the exception of the 124 which was always destined to be a small volume car, is uninteresting. I feel like every step of the American launch of the Fiat brand was mishandled, so I can’t really say I’m surprised or saddened by this.

  • avatar
    nlinesk8s

    Let’s face it; the 500 was ugly. The Abarth was barely passable. Yes, having more power would have been nice (always), but if the car had been better looking, Mini would have had some competition.

    You have to wonder how Fiat convinced themselves the car would be a success. Did they not bother with focus groups outside of urban areas with hipsters?

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Focus groups ARE the problem, nline. People don’t know what they want until they see it and focus groups have invariably caused companies to make major mistakes. Remember “New Coke”? Nearly every brand has had focus group failures, yet they still try to use such groups to design appealing products, wondering why so many of them fail.

  • avatar
    vehic1

    Fiat (and Mini, for that matter) are too married to the variant-of-one-retro-model look, unless all they ever wanted was to be niche brands. There aren’t enough buyers who adore the bug-eyed, dull-rounded look to generate large volumes consistently.

  • avatar
    Oberkanone

    Sell the FIAT vehicles under the Chrysler brand. From the start this was the right strategy.
    Do NOT eliminate Chrysler.
    STOP leaching money from the North American profits to fund development at Alfa, Maserati, FIAT and Lancia.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Shed a tear? Nope. They brought a car with the 500 name, and unless you’re old like me, you either don’t remember the first 500 (or the 600, for that matter), or never even heard of it. So it definitely wouldn’t “resonate” with their target market. Also, it’s FWD, so nothing like the original 500.

    Most people don’t remember the first 124 Sport Spyder, so the new Spyder hasn’t had any hope of gaining traction in the marketplace, either.

    The funny thing is, when I see a 500 (which is fairly regularly), about half the time, it’s an Abarth.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    Yeah, I will be sad to see them leave. I had a 2013 500 Abarth and it always put a smile on my face when I drove it. It was also completely trouble free for me. I liked that it was different and had some real personality. It wasn’t a rocket, but had just the right amount of power to make it fun on normal streets and curvy backroads.

    I now have an Alfa Giulia. I keep my fingers crossed that Alfa doesn’t get axed, too, but with a short-term lease my financial exposure is relatively minimal, at least.

    A good friend actually bought a 500L. It was a 2013, I think, sitting new at a local Fiat dealer after it’s second birthday. It was a loaded car with leather and all the toys and I think she paid just under half of the original MSRP. It’s been a good car for her. Like many, the local Fiat dealer gave up and shut down the showroom and was blowing out aged inventory. They had a couple of GQ-edition 500 Abarth Cabrios left and were blowing them out, but alas I was in no position to buy another car at the time.

    Anyway, she loves the thing. While I find the styling awkward, it is pretty pleasant to drive with fantastic visibility and a nice ride. She is barely 5′ tall and finds most SUVs hard to see out of. Again, she has reported no trouble or repairs since she bought it a couple of years ago.

    The dealers certainly did the brand no favors. Before shutting their doors, the local guy never even staffed the showroom… one had to go to their Ford franchise next door and beg someone to show you the Fiats. They just kept a note on the door to the Fiat showroom. On top of that, nearly all of their inventory were loaded automatics, which just make them noncompetitive from a price perspective. The remaining Fiat dealer about 50 miles away has a few 124 Spiders, but also all loaded automatics and I don’t think they have had a single 500 hatch (Abarth or otherwise) in over a year.

  • avatar
    scuzimi

    I have owned Fiats since 2012. My Abarth was a trouble free fun car that was pretty much problem free. Why did I sell it… the seats were miserable! I then bought a Fiat X. Comfy, stylish. The trans has been a big problem but the Chrysler dealership that takes care of it have worked hard to fix something they didn’t build.

    So my Fiat-Alfa sticker, tshirt bizzs are probably toast and if this happens and the car will be even more worthless that it is now. Shame on you Sergio.

  • avatar
    TDIandThen....

    Yes I will muster a tear. I’m that one guy who has been saving his kopeks for the 124 and wondering when the ‘real’ aka European Abarth, and a hard top, are arriving. I’ll still probably buy one this year but…this is my sad face. Support via Dodge dealers? No thanks.

    If I were FCA I’d fold at least the 124 and 500 Abarth under a surviving US brand though. I agree with all the comments above about the potential to add power or efficiency to the lineup and beat the pants off Mini or have a winner.

    Alternatively I’d really like to see the 124 go to Alfa for US distribution, and for Alfa to provide a much better dealer experience than Chrysler Dodge (which are half the problem with buying a Fiat so far for me). That would make the 124 and Abarth 500 the entry experience for Alfa, which could work over a long term. I’d be thrilled to turn fifty and finally afford the Giulia Quadrifoglio for example.

  • avatar
    Johnster

    Been there, done that.

    Back in the early ’80s. I was sad when the Brava, 2000 Sport Spider and X1/9 went away. I didn’t particularly like the Strada. (The 2000 Sport Spider came back as the Pininfarina Sport Spider and the X1/9 as the Bertone X1/9 for a little while.)

    I kept hoping they’d get their act together, but they didn’t seem serious about building reliable transportation. I’m not going to miss them.

  • avatar
    Syke

    Count me as one of those who will be disappointed if Fiat leaves the American market. My 13 500c Abarth was one of the 4-5 most enjoyable cars I’ve ever owned. The reason I don’t still have it? Two wheels too many. No matter how good, a sports car still comes in second up a good motorcycle. And I have four of those.

  • avatar
    Syke

    Just for the record: Fix It Again Tony did NOT apply to this current generation of Fiat cars. If you insist on pushing that old tired line, you have no idea what you’re talking about, so shut the f**k up.

  • avatar
    James2

    My mom knows nothing about cars but every time she’s reminded of her 500L loaner she says it’s a terrible car. What’s Italian for “don’t let the door hit you in the ass”?

  • avatar
    hawox

    i live in italy and here fiat sells thanks to aggressive pricing on some cars (like punto wich is outperformed by competition).

    i can’t understand how they manage to sell cars like the fiat 500L, also the overpriced fiat 500.
    they aren’t fun to drive, nor spacious nor cheaper to maintain than competition.

    for sure i wouldn’t buy one if i lived in the us

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    Yes, I’ll miss them if they go. My 500e was the most enjoyable car I’ve owned, and I’ve owned a lot of fun cars. The 500X with the base powertrain (1.4T and stick) is a fun, cheap, useful car that cheerfully takes bumpy or windy roads in stride. The Abarths are a bratty, blatty blast.

    If it’s hard to sell small cars, but you have to sell at least a few for CAFE reasons, then to me it makes sense to have a brand that attracts the specific people who like small cars, and that’s FIAT. The brand has always stood for cheap to buy, fun to drive, cheekily stylish, and easy on gas. Send all the little cars to the FIAT store–just make sure they’re fun to drive and stylish. Turbo all the things, install proper seats, and make every available trim package as snazzy as can be: lush chocolate brown pleather and fake chrome accents FTW.

    God help you trying to sell the Dart as a Dodge. But keep more of its Italian DNA intact, and you’d have a nice step-up model for the FIAT buyer with a baby on the way.

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