Fiat 500: Do-Overs Or Dead On Arrival?

July 29, 2010

As I was was busy savoring every bite of my life-shortening, artery-clogging, saturated-fat-laced lunch, knowing that the thick layer of mayonnaise was probably responsible for the seizing sensation going down my left arm, I thought to myself, wouldn’t life be great if we got do-overs? You know, all those knowingly stupid decisions you made as a kid or teenager or adult would be wiped clean and you would have never had that embarrassing tattoo of Joan Rivers on your bicep. Or worse, you wouldn’t have gotten so drunk and passed out allowing the frat boys next door to come over and shave off one eyebrow and then write “Brain empty. Return Head for Deposit” in indelible ink on your forehead.

And then as lunch and my non-work web surfing were collectively coming to a close, my eyes happened upon an article about Fiat returning to the United States after a 30 year absence. Thirty years is a long time, my friends. Long enough for bad memories to die and be replaced by fond ones? Long enough for a full do-over? Or will Fiat be dead on arrival?

Well, bad memories do take a long, long time to fade into the past and many North Americans either don’t know Fiat or don’t want to know Fiat because of the bad old days when they rusted on the docks before coming to this side of the Atlantic. I won’t go into the horror stories. However, the target audience for the new Fiats (really only the 500 in multiple incarnations) may be just what the Fiat doctor ordered. Youth of a fashion-sensitive ilk will want this car--which is the same demographic that buys the Mini. And Mini makes much money. These buyers want style, fun, and just enough practicality, but not too much so. And most of them probably don’t know Fiat from a hole in the ground. So Fiat gets a marketing do-over.

Beyond the tremendous styling both inside and out, looking at the tech under the hood, namely the 1.4 MultiAir engine and the turbo version thereof, is enough to get me on board. And I know zilch from fashion. Alas, I fear were I to buy or lease one of these, my extremely tolerant wife would probably remove one of my body parts and put it in a shoe box next to the fridge to keep as a reminder. No do-overs for me.

But Fiat does have a big challenge with this small car. It’s the only vehicle in their lineup for the near term and it will be hard to rebuild a brand on one car. But if they market it right, like a less expensive but just as good Mini, and make it cheaper than the over-priced Mini, it could work. They may even be able to latch on to 1960’s Italian flair and market it that way. Should be interesting.

For your enjoyment, I also included a link to the TopGear review of this car. It’s fun to watch, especially if you have a spare 8 minutes or so and the boss isn’t watching.

[Autonews, YouTube]

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