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2012 Fiat 500 Yields Some Post-Launch Surprises

2012 Fiat 500C Cabrio, Vanderbilt Mansion, Hyde Park, NY

2012 Fiat 500C Cabrio, Vanderbilt Mansion, Hyde Park, NY

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No one really knew how well the Fiat 500 would sell in the United States. Brand champions, such as Fiat North America head Laura Soave, predicted success, based on the car’s novelty factor and pent-up demand for the Fiat brand in the United States. Escalating fuel prices played into Fiat’s hands as well, since the diminutive 500 gets an EPA estimated 30 mpg city and 38 mpg highway. It’s size makes it ideal for urban dwellers, as it takes up less room on the street than even a Mini Cooper, which is seven inches longer and two inches wider.

Four months after launch, the Fiat 500 is doing well despite the handicap of limited dealerships and insufficient advertising.  There are 70 Fiat dealerships in the United States instead of the planned 130, but Soave is working to expand the dealer network. Ten dealerships are ultimately planned for Texas, since the state has three of the nations top-10 cities in terms of population, and the trend in Texas shows a migration towards cities and away from rural areas. In other words, the sales climate is ideal for a car like the Fiat 500.

Through June, Fiat has sold 4,944 500s in the United States, and is on pace to move between 30,000 and 35,000 units in 2011. What’s surprising is that five-speed manual transmission cars have accounted for nearly 50 percent of sales, possibly due to the reputation of the EU specification automatic gearbox. U.S. cars will get an entirely new six-speed automatic, but that hasn’t kept dealers from ordering up to 70 percent of their inventory with manual transmissions.

Sales of the cabriolet version have also defied predictions. Initial estimates were that open-top 500s would account for 10 percent of sales, but the actual number has varied between 15 and 20 percent. Dealers can’t keep Fiat 500 Cabriolets in stock, and Chrysler is changing production at their Toluca, Mexico, plant to build more convertibles.

Look for a summer advertising blitz on the 500, and look for details to begin leaking on the high-performance Fiat 500 Abarth. If you live near one of the country’s major population centers, expect to see more Fiat dealerships in the coming months as well.

[Ward’s Auto]

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Comments (9)
  1. Pent up demand! From who? People who owned these rustbuckets in the past? Fix It Again Tony was the byword for decades of Fiat owners. If they don't come from Italy pre-rusted and are made here by Chrysler, then they might have a chance.

  2. Bob, you forget that most people have short attention spans, and it's easier to remember the good times in your Fiat Spider than all the times it was back in the shop.

    The Fiat of today bears little resemblance to the Fiat of 40 years ago, so I'm willing to give them a second chance. Judging from sales of the 500, so are many other people.

  3. Bob, I have my 500 for almost three months now, it is a great little car,they have shipped in excess of 500,000 in Europe and 80 countries so far.Fiat has included maintenance for three years right down to the wipers. That should ease the bad memories

  4. "Through June, Fiat has sold 4,944 500s in the United States, and is on pace to move between 30,000 and 35,000 units in 2011."
    Huh?? They're actually on a pace to move 9888 units in 2011.

  5. @ModernMode, it's "manufacturer's math"; in other words, it doesn't matter what they've sold to date, what matters is how many they think they'll sell for the rest of the year.

    Don't forget that the number of dealerships should nearly double by year end, which will make Fiat's projections (somewhat) more achievable.

  6. FIAT = Fine Italian American Transportation

  7. I agree with Bob. Fiat is giving the American public the opportunity for another hatefest.

  8. @John, what do you base that on? Have you driven a Fiat, either here or in Europe, in recent years?

  9. I am happy the Fiat 500 is selling well,one must remember Fiat is Ferrari,and that alone means alot to me.I will buy the Abarth version,and make fun of Audies and VW's.

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