As It Plots a Modest Path Forward, Fiat Thinks Small

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
as it plots a modest path forward fiat thinks small

Fiat, the ancient automotive brand found at the top of very few American shopping lists, finds itself in the midst of a transformation. On its European home turf, emissions rules have grown ever more strict; meanwhile, many buyers are gravitating towards the type of vehicles offered by corporate sibling Jeep, and Fiat Chrysler would prefer they purchase the seven-slot brand. That leaves Fiat with a mandate to think small.

As details emerge from the latest meeting of Fiat brass, it looks like the brand’s future holds efficiency but precious little flash.

The brand’s diminished stature was made apparent in last year’s five-year FCA product plan, which focused heavily on the cash-cow Jeep and Ram brands, but Fiat remains important to the corporate mothership for its Euro small-car sales and EV presence.

Speaking to Autocar, Fiat CEO Olivier François said the brand’s strategy is simple.

“For our future product plan, we need the right balance between the two dimensions: the Fiat 500 family and family transportation. There will be no big cars, no premium cars, no sporty cars because they have no legitimacy,” said François.

“We will be present in the C-segment [compact] but not much more. All models will sit within 3.5m and 4.5m. This is where Fiat will play. We need more EVs. And we need more 500 models that look legitimate enough to take higher pricing.”

Fiat recently punted production of the current-generation 500 to Poland to make room in Turin for an all-electric 500e successor expected out next year. The old 500 will remain, offering a low-cost entry point to the brand. In the U.S., expect to see FCA’s new turbo 1.3-liter take up residence beneath the returning model’s hood, hooked up to an eTorque mild hybrid system. The engine already finds a home in the 500X. Autocar has learned that the all-electric model might sport clamshell-style doors for better rear-seat ingress/egress.

The 500e remains FCA’s only EV in North America.

While Europeans can expect new 500 variants like the roomier Giardiniera estate, existing models like the 500L and Jeep Renegade-based 500X have a hazy future. Autocar reports that the 500X will bow out of the Euro market; Automotive News reports that we’ll lose the 500L, angering a vanishingly small number of buyers. Meanwhile, UK buyers no longer have access to the non-Abarth 124 Spider, and it remains to be seen how long the model kicks around. It’s up to Mazda, really.

Earlier this year, François told Autocar that he’d be open to a successor, assuming he can find a partner. No shared platform, no new Spider.

“The 124 market is a niche one,” said said. “It is profitable business for us, but only because of the joint venture. It was an opportunity and we took it. It makes money and it adds a certain cool factor. But I accept that such a car may not be key to the future of the brand. It is not what I’d call a pure, absolute Fiat, but for now, it remains an interesting opportunity.”

The Spider might have legs in Europe, but not in the States. Sales of the MX-5-based roadster fell 19 percent in the first half of 2019, following an even steeper decline seen in 2018. Overall, the barely-there Fiat brand fell 38 percent through the end of June. And yet Fiat officials say an American pull-out is not in the cards.

[Image: © 2018 Chris Tonn/TTAC, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]

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  • Dal20402 Dal20402 on Aug 19, 2019

    In keeping with FCA's "one brand per niche" mindset, it's probably better to keep the few small cars FCA has left as Fiats than to try to squeeze them into any other brand. That implies a three-vehicle lineup: 500 500X Something compelling to replace the 500L in the compact segment Personally, I think that should be a new Strada. The Strada, called Ritmo in European markets, was an average C-segment hatch except that it had terrific funky styling that was unlike anything else in the late '70s. Bring something else with totally different styling, don't call it "500," and maybe you can sell a few more copies than the bloated and undistinguished 500L managed.

    • See 2 previous
    • Steve203 Steve203 on Aug 19, 2019

      @dal20402 >>They should come with something as eye-catching as the first Ritmo. Italians aren’t going to bring Toyota reliability or VW precision, but they can do extroverted styling very, very well.

  • Krhodes1 Krhodes1 on Aug 19, 2019

    I suspect the issue with the Miata IS the 124. They are very comparable cars, but the Fiat version is MUCH cheaper in the real world, and more easily tunable if you are into that sort of thing. It is also rides more comfortably and is less nervous to drive, and the base model is better equipped. There is only so much market for this sort of thing in the US, land of the waddling CUV, and the two of them are splitting it up. I bought a leftover 2018 124 Lusso for about $8K off and love the thing. Makes a perfect pairing with my GTI. Mazda dealers were offering a grand or two on 2018 Miatas and no discounts at all on 2019s with the new motor. It was a no brainer, and I like the look and feel of the Fiat better. I have owned a 500 Abarth in the past and have zero fears of anything Fiat.

  • Lou_BC "Owners of affected Wrangles" Does a missing "r" cancel an extra stud?
  • Slavuta One can put a secret breaker that will disable the starter or spark plug supply. Even disabling headlights or all lights will bring more trouble to thieves than they wish for. With no brake lights, someone will hit from behind, they will leave fingerprints inside. Or if they steal at night, they will have to drive with no lights. Any of these things definitely will bring attention.I remember people removing rotor from under distributor cup.
  • Slavuta Government Motors + Government big tech + government + Federal police = fascist surveillance state. USSR surveillance pales...
  • Johnster Another quibble, this time about the contextualization of the Thunderbird and Cougar, and their relationship to the prestigious Continental Mark. (I know. It's confusing.) The Thunderbird/Mark IV platform introduced for the 1971 model year was apparently derived from the mid-sized Torino/Montego platform (also introduced for the 1971 model year), but should probably be considered different from it.As we all know, the Cougar shared its platform with the Ford Mustang up through the 1973 model year, moving to the mid-sized Torino/Montego platform for the 1974 model year. This platform was also shared with the failed Ford Gran Torino Elite, (introduced in February of 1974, the "Gran Torino" part of the name was dropped for the 1975 and 1976 model years).The Thunderbird/Mark series duo's separation occurred with the 1977 model year when the Thunderbird was downsized to share a platform with the LTD II/Cougar. The 1977 model year saw Mercury drop the "Montego" name and adopt the "Cougar" name for all of their mid-sized cars, including plain 2-doors, 4-doors and and 4-door station wagons. Meanwhile, the Cougar PLC was sold as the "Cougar XR-7." The Cougar wagon was dropped for the 1978 model year (arguably replaced by the new Zephyr wagon) while the (plain) 2-door and 4-door models remained in production for the 1978 and 1979 model years. It was a major prestige blow for the Thunderbird. Underneath, the Thunderbird and Cougar XR-7 for 1977 were warmed-over versions of the failed Ford Elite (1974-1976), while the Mark V was a warmed-over version of the previous Mark IV.
  • Stuart de Baker This is depressing, and I don't own one of these.