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Can A Fiat 500 Station Wagon Save Fiat In The U.S.?

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No doubt about it: sales of the Fiat 500 have been disappointing. But Fiat's marketing chief, Olivier Francois, says that there's a new Fiat heading to America, which could shake things up: a Fiat 500-based station wagon.

Chrysler/Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne blames the 500's weak sales figures in part on overconfidence. As he told reporters last week, "We thought we were going to show up and just because of the fact people like gelato and pasta, people will buy it." Obviously, that didn't pan out: Marchionne had hoped to sell around 50,000 units of the Fiat 500 in the U.S. in 2011, but the final tally rang in below 20,000.

Those numbers weren't helped by a slow rollout of 500 ad campaigns. Though early orders for the 500 arrived in driveways last March, initial marketing for the model was minimal, relying on a lot of web ads and a handful of not-so-great TV commercials. The 500's full-court press, led by Jennifer Lopez, didn't arrive until midway through September.

Francois also lays some blame for the 500's sales on misrepresenting the 500 as a "chick car". Speaking to AdAge, he said, "There is now no excuse, the brand's brief was wrong, and all the responsibility lies here.... Soon we will have the sporty masculine version [the Abarth] that we missed because we were tucked into the feminine DNA of the 500."

And then there's the problem of distribution. Marchionne didn't want Fiats to be displayed on Chrysler lots, so he asked dealers to construct special Fiat showrooms. That has affected the number of Fiat outlets and the pace at which they've come online.

The Fiat 500 station wagon

Francois has said that Fiat will unveil a station wagon "related" to the 500 this spring at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show. He's also said that this wagon will arrive in America at some point in 2013.

This raises some pros and cons. On the upside, a station wagon will obviously be bigger than the 500 city car, and that's likely to play well with Americans, who haven't historically been eager to shell out for smaller rides. 

On the downside, it's a station wagon -- a style of vehicle that's regaining popularity in other markets, but hasn't fully proven itself here in the U.S. (Though that hasn't stopped other automakers from rolling out U.S. wagons of their own.) A wagon will also do little to boost Fiat's brand appeal among male consumers, since station wagons in the U.S. are often associated with female shoppers.

What will it look like?

Fiat has a number of station wagons in its global family, including the New Croma and Stilo. However, both of those are a fair bit bigger than the 500. If we had to guess, we'd think the mystery wagon might be closer to an elongated Fiat Panda, which has some history with Jeep

But what we really want to know is: would you be interested in a Fiat station wagon? Could this salvage Fiat sales in the U.S.? Or is the brand already doomed to slink out of the U.S. market again? Fiat fans and detractors, drop us a line or leave a comment in the notes below.

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Comments (5)
  1. The 500 needs a total rethink of its brand promise. They've set up showrooms based on choice- fourteen colors and fourteen interiors- but can't deliver in anything less than the 1970's industry standard of 8 weeks- that's an epic fail and breaks the brand promise. Also, do you really think a Station Wagon will refute the chick label? Abarth is too late, the car is a chickmobile and always will be now in North America. Better figure out a way to make the ladies happy.
     
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  2. I don't know that I agree fully with you Jeff. FIAT definitely should've started in the U.S. market with a different model. I truly believe that. However, I don't think FIAT will only be known as a chick mobile car dealer. Lets give FIAT time. What company sells one model exclusively in the U.S. and thrives in the car industry? None. That's why FIAT needs more models and then all judgement can be considered fair.
     
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  3. Fiat needs to bring some of its popular models such as the Linea, Grande Punto, etc. to the U.S. Markets. They can't keep going on with just the 500 and the 500L is not a good idea to convince the customers. Sergio, if you're reading this, reconsider bringing some other models than just the 500L. Your chances of surviving in the U.S. Economy will improve, with your other models.
     
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  4. A wagon might work, but the intro should include a little pickup, which nobody else has in the US. P.S. I(we) bought a 500C Cabrio, it is a great car. Peppy, smooth, only thing like it in the US $20k range . The car has some quality, Much better than the Smart Cabrio we traded in. The Michigan built Motor is the closest thing we could get to a US produced inexpensive cabrio.
     
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  5. "Or is the brand already doomed to slink out of the U.S. market again?"
    I'd definitely have to put you in the "Fiat Detractor" crowd. With 2012 US sales of 500s at 43,700+ and Canadian sales at 8,000+, it's hardly a failure.
    The 500L will only help broaden the nameplate's appeal (although I think their goal of 20,000 is optimistic, especially since 2013 will be a short 'year' for the new model).
    As for the 500 being pegged as a 'chick-mobile', go drive a 500turbo. Its handling, peppiness & throaty exhaust note would put smile on most any male moterhead's face if they had the cojones to try one.
     
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