Incredibly Shrinking Fiat 500 Finally Dropped in North America
The model that helped relaunch a long-departed brand — a brand which subsequently failed to clear the tower — is effectively dead in North America. Fiat Chrysler has taken the retro-themed, pint-sized Fiat 500 off life support, removing it from the brand’s North American offerings for 2020.
The newly turbocharged 500, its beefier Abarth brother, and the eco-warrior 500e electric, were victims of America’s unrelenting desire for large, spacious automobiles. The illness took hold almost as soon as the 500 arrived.
In releasing details of its 2020 model lineup, FCA omitted the most commonly seen Fiat on American roads. When pressed about the disappearing act, FCA replied to several media outlets this past weekend that, yes, the Fiat 500 and its variants would cease production for the North American market for 2020. Existing supplies of non-Abarth examples will continue to entice buyers into the coming year, a spokesperson told CNET on Monday.
Returning for 2020, much to the relief of dozens of buyers, is the 500X subcompact crossover, the 500L…thing… and the Mazda MX-5-based 124 Spider.
If the 500’s recent sales history tells us anything, it’s that buyers need not break local speed limits in their haste to reach a Fiat retailer before closing time. Cinquecento sales are a mere shadow of what the brand enjoyed after introducing the model at the 2010 L.A. Auto Show.
First reaching FCA dealers in July of 2011, the 500 benefitted from average gasoline prices flirting with the $3.50-$4.00 range and a slowly recovering economy. Its retro design, efficiency, and low entry price was enough to dispel worries about Italian reliability and more practical concerns about passenger and cargo capacity. As a second car, the 500 at the time made a lot of sense.
However, the 500’s first full year on the market turned out to be its best. Some 43,772 500s rolled into U.S. driveways in 2012. Such was the initial interest in the model, February 2012 saw 6,454 500s find new homes. In that high water mark month, the 500 sold 1,351 more units than the entire Fiat range sold in the first half of 2019.
The decline began in 2013, with 500 volume dropping each year thereafter. Last year saw just 5,370 500s bleed from FCA lots; again, significantly less than the model’s February 2012 volume. It’s worth noting that the 2018 model year saw the 500 gain a standard turbocharged 1.4-liter powerplant, fixing just one criticism of the previously pokey model.
And, sadly for Fiat, the 500 remains the brand’s best U.S. seller. The 500’s volume over the first half of 2019 slightly outranks the 124 Spider and the 500X — a vehicle that any rational person would have expected to sell in larger numbers. The Jeep Renegade-based 500X saw its volume fall 54 percent through June. As for the 500L, it sold 399 units in the U.S. in the first half.
Things aren’t any better in the land of high gas prices to the north. While FCA Canada recorded 117,746 sales in the first half of 2019, only 209 of those vehicles bore Fiat badges. Put another way, only 0.177 percent of FCA vehicles sold in Canada through June were Fiats.
With the 500L regarded as living on borrowed time and the Spider only made possible via a collaboration with Mazda (while also selling less than expected), one wonders how long the Fiat brand can continue to exist in America. FCA remains tight-lipped about Fiat’s American future. Europeans can expect a new, all-electric 500 and lengthier estate version next year, as well as the continuation of the original gas-powered model, but it seems the brand has basically thrown in the towel on this side of the Atlantic.
Could the 500 return as a slightly larger green model? FCA isn’t saying, but the brand won’t have much of a future here without something new coming down the pipe. Even if there is, perhaps. Still, while the 500e EV was useful for placating the Environmental Protection Agency, FCA lost money on each model sold; the automaker now prefers buying green credits from Tesla and paying an annual fine to the federal agency for all of its gas-swilling Jeeps and Rams.
[Images: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]
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