With today’s official confirmatio n that Fiat’s US market brand boss, Laura Soave, has been replaced by Timothy Kuniskis, there’s more than a little attention being paid to the Fiat 500’s stateside sales and marketing. Which is something of a curious state of affairs; after all, when the 500 was introduced to Europe, it was quite well-received by the press and public. In hopes of tracking down some kind of explanation for this discrepancy, I hit Youtube looking for ads introducing the Fiat 500 to European markets. The first spot I found can be seen above, and it encapsulates how I feel the 500 probably should have been introduced to the US: with one simple, smart, timeless ad. Instead we got a flurry of disjointed, uncoordinated efforts, with Jennifer Lopez eventually dominating the Cinquecento‘s image almost by default. Could this explain why the 500’s US sales have disappointed?
After an early downturn in sales, it appeared that Fiat might be distancing its 500 from the Jennifer Lopez-dominated image that hasn’t been panning out so well. With the debut of the 500 Abarth at the LA Auto Show, the ad shown above kept the sex-factor high, but focused far more on the male market. Perhaps sensing a shift in direction, Bloomberg asked Fiat/Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne last week if the brand’s boss Laura Soave would be keeping her job despite the weak sales. Still undecided, Marchionne replied in the affirmative
For the time being.
That was last Wednesday. Over the weekend, something seems to have changed…
We have been following this phenomenon for a while. Joint ventures in China create faux Chinese brands. Because? Because it’s the right thing to do, at least as far as the Chinese government is concerned. Officially, the reason for those fake Chinese brands is to make cars more affordable. Off the record, automakers roll their (slanted and round) eyes at this reasoning. A new brand doesn’t miraculously make a car more affordable. In the contrary. To establish a brand costs money. To establish dealer networks costs money. To build new cars costs money, even if they are on passé platforms. But you’ve got to do what China’s bureaucrats think you’ve got to do. Possibly, all these joint venture brands, from GM’s BaoJun on out, will end up in nice statistics that prove that homegrown Chinese brands are selling, and that exports are up.
Why the rant? Nissan and Dongfeng show the first production model of the faux Chinese Venucia brand at the Guangzhou auto show.
It’s no secret that Ferrari has been wrestling with the inevitable conflict between its bellowing V12s and European emission regulations, but that’s not the only challenge facing the Prancing Horse’s powertrain division. Sure, there’s the increasingly-tenuous link between the Scuderia’s Formula One technology and its road cars [sub], but in the short term that actually helps the emissions issue by creating a pretext for bringing KERS to the road (where it otherwise has little role). In fact, the real issue for Ferrari’s powertrain team is not even a “Ferrari issue” at all, but a Maserati issue.
I was not the only person to predict that the Fit 500 would enjoy strong initial sales and then flop as the novelty wore off… and I was half right! Sales climbed early, peaking at around 3k units per month this summer before dropping precipitously in September and October. In August were still wondering if the 500 could become a classic, but as of November 1, Fiat 500 inventory stood at a staggering 184 days. Now, Automotive News [sub] quotes UAW officials as saying that
Chrysler Group has suspended production this month of the 1.4-liter FIRE engine that powers the Fiat 500 in North America because of slow U.S. sales of the subcompact
Since the Tokyo Auto Show and some Scion scuttlebutt have us on something of a Daihatsu theme here, I thought I’d show a bit of what the small car specialists are up to these days. The truth: despite the brand’s futuristic showcar image projections, Daihatsu mostly plays in the rough-and-tumble entry-level segments of emerging markets, where the cars are small and the margins can be even smaller.
And it’s had better luck there than in the so-called “mature markets.” Though the third generation Charade flopped on the American market amid much popular ridicule of its name (and, according to gearhead lore, oversight of other favorable qualities), the previous generation became the FAW-Tianjin “Xiali,” one of China’s most ubiquitous cars. Now Daihatsu is ditching Europe and hustling strangely cool little mini-MPVs built in Indonesia with the taglines “it’s very cheap” and “we build them compact.” Who needs developed markets?
The last time Jaguar built an entry-level car based on front-drive architecture, it built the X-Type, a car that was nearly universally panned as “not quite a real Jaguar.” At thee time though, Ford was desperate to make a little money on its Premier Auto Group, and bringing Jaguar downmarket was the only way to do that relatively cheaply. And, all things considered, it could have been a lot worse: at least Ford was working from a good basis in the form of the Mondeo (Contour), which at the time was considered one of the better driving mass-market sedans. But if anything, the fact that the Jaguar brand was being used as Ford’s corporate pawn was a big part of why the X-Type flopped (the company’s overly-earnest insistence that the X-Type was in fact a ‘proper Jag” (see above) didn’t help either). And flop it did: sales topped out at 33k units in the US, and enjoyed only four years of rapidly-declining five-digit sales. While reviewers like Robert Farago used terms like “laughable distraction” to describe the baby Jag.
But those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it. Now owned by India’s Tata Motors, Jaguar is once again aiming at the entry-luxury market, and it’s planning… a front-drive sedan.
According to two independent sources within FoMoCo, FIN has learned that Lincoln has killed off plans for the MkC. Instead, Lincoln will focus all compact energies upon their new CUV, which is internally named the MkD. According to one source, Ford feared that the MkC would cannibalize sales of the larger MkZ sedan… According to a source who has seen the “MkD,” the Escape based CUV sports a design that is more of a tall hatch rather than a traditional CUV. When it comes to interior dimensions, it will be slightly less than that of the Escape
OK, let’s get this straight: a Focus-based “MKC” competes with the MXZ but a next-gen Escape-based CUV doesn’t compete with the MKX? It’s good to see Lincoln trying to focus its efforts, but it’s hard to say that a reborn Mercury Mariner is the place to be focusing. Meanwhile, this wasn’t the only spooky news coming out Ford’s struggling luxury brand over Halloween weekend…