Why the Fiat 500 Will Outsell the MINI

January 28th, 2011

Fiat 500

If you want to drive a Honda Fit or a Chevy Aveo, stop reading here. People who like sporty small cars with style will be lining up in droves to buy the new Fiat 500.

Three trim levels (which Fiat calls “Versions”) are coming to dealer showrooms in March. Leftlane reports that “about 50 of Fiat’s planned 130 dealerships” will then be open, the rest coming online by year’s end.

We think the car will catch on immediately, because it offers a style no competitor can match, 30/38 mpg fuel economy with the manual transmission, and a base price of $15,500 very well equipped. According to all the reviews, it’s fun to drive and has balance, agility and handling, if not gobs of power.

Fiat is not marketing this car to be a big seller; instead, it’s a spearhead into the U.S. market. No noisy national campaigns, but lots of social media and lifestyle marketing to diverse segments will generate, Fiat hopes, sales of “about 120,000 cars in North America during its first year.” We don’t have projections for U.S. sales, but this figure seems somewhat optimistic.

The MINI has been a great success for BMW, and it’s a terrific (though overpriced) car. The styling is getting old, however – very old. And its marketing is, well, childish and ineffective.

The latest example is stuffing 26 dancers into a MINI Cooper to break the Guinness World Record. I was tempted to post the video as an add-on to tgriffith’s examples of idiocy collection.

At the 2010 L.A. Auto Show, a Cooper was stuffed with cash to reinforce the idea that it is “a safe place to put your money” (because of its high resale value, fuel economy, etc.).

MINI sold 45,644 cars in the U.S. in 2010, 45,225 in 2009. By offering new models like the Countryman and new engines last fall, BMW hopes to keep the ball rolling.

The big problem for MINI in competing with the 500 will be price—the Cooper in basic trim starts about $4,000 higher than the base 500—and an old style competing with (for Americans) a new and smart style.

Let us know which car you think will win by taking the poll below.

—jgoods

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  1. majo
    | #1

    and i can give you 3 simple keys, why fiat will fail in the US :
    1. history of Fiat – americans think, fiat stands for “fix it again Tony” as a technical problem with these cars in the history
    2. engines – 1,4l is just too small for the US even if the automatic transmission is available…fiat should invent at least 2,0l engine for the american market with hybrid technology,to be successful-but it is impossible to fit such a huge engine to the limited space capacity of fiat 500
    3. the size of Fiat 500 – this car is too small even for Europe, where the streets in the city are much more narrow than in US.The lack of rear doors is the reason,why Panda beats 500 in Europe
    In general,this car is classy retro, but strongly insufficient for the average consumer today, who is taller and bigger than a man in the 1950s.

  2. jgoods
    | #2

    @ majo
    I owned two Fiats in the 1970s–an X1/9 and a 131 wagon–and both finally had reliability problems, though they were basically very good cars. The fix-it-again-tony attitude is not going to be a problem for those who recognize the quality in Fiat cars today (I’d buy another). And there is a whole new audience for these cars that won’t worry about what happened 40 years ago. Re engine size: Almost all reviewers like the engine, find it has sufficient power and torque (MultiAir tech), and it’s responsive. Re size: Big folks fit fine in the 500, though whether people are ready finally to accept smaller cars in serious numbers in the U.S. is an open question.

  3. Twins
    | #3

    The FIAT 500 outsells the Mini in Europe, because it is more roomy, cheaper and subjectively nice to look at.

    However, the US will not get the best engine… the 2-cylinder 0.9L TwinAir…

  1. | #1
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