FIAT’s Problems with the 500

January 19th, 2012

FIAT 500 Abarth

First, the company was “naive,” as CEO Sergio Marchionne has admitted, in setting a first-year sales goal of 50,000 FIAT 500s. Big mistake, and utter hubris to think the company could beat MINI its first year out. Still, nearly 20,000 were sold—no mean accomplishment.

The second big error was to push its dealers to set up separate, FIAT-only showrooms to make the car more exclusive than it should be. And then fail to give them support.

Error number three was not the J-Lo ad campaign that everyone is so quick to criticize, but the positioning of the car as something cute, customizable and upscalable (i.e., the Gucci version). See the newest Abarth ad after the break.

So the company got mired in the perception of the 500 as a girly car—because most American males think that anything small, cleverly designed and fun to drive is a chickmobile. Old habits die hard.

Now, FIAT is trying to get itself unstuck from this mess by introducing—finally—the Abarth 500, which should have been brought to market immediately with a basic 500 and maybe one other fancier trim. The price/performance factor will give it some sales clout ($22,000 base).

Finally comes a city car with real performance.

And there is talk about a 500 wagon to debut in March at Geneva, maybe using the 1.4-liter MultiAir engine that powers the Abarth. It may look something like the pix shown here of the ElleZero, which certainly echoes the MINI Countryman roofline but is a lot better looking.

Castagna, a coachbuilder in Milan, has created three versions of a 500 limousine, shown here, that are crazy and wonderful.

The Abarth is built in Toluca, Mexico; the wagon will come from Serbia; the American version of the 500 is sold in China and Brazil. It is amazing to think that the global appeal of this car will stall out in America.

Can FIAT and its 500 recover in the U.S. from a bad product launch?

—jgoods

Find Used Cars in Your Area at CarGurus

Used FIAT 500
Used MINI Countryman

Be Sociable, Share!

  1. mateo
    June 25th, 2013 at 01:17 | #1

    @ Randy
    Precisely, it obviously has a lot of the same DNA as that other hideous Fiat, the infamously grotesque Multipla. And the so-called ‘hipsters’ who often seem to be its only staunch defenders, ironically often seem to be the same kinda clueless dweebs that supermodel Catrinel Menghia intimidates in the Fiat ads (…lol)!

  2. Jack Modlin
    April 21st, 2013 at 12:50 | #2

    We have a 2012 Fiat 500 Sport. I have driven it across the USA. As a man I loved the attention I received. In every state people asked questions. All loved it , Male and Female. I test drove the Mini, uncomfortable seats, and less MPG plus much higher price $25,000. All sold me on the Fiat, mine was only, $20,000. Loaded.

  3. Rdub
    May 11th, 2012 at 07:25 | #3

    18,000 is “overpriced”? What are you looking at Hyundai Accents?
    By the way you can’t get a mini with fiat features for 18.

  4. Randy
    January 19th, 2012 at 19:21 | #4

    The main problem is that it’s an overpriced and fairly unattractive little bug of a car. They’re trying to price it like a mini, but I think the mini is a much nicer looking car. They’re trying to make it a hipster car, which ain’t flying. Maybe they should get some dancing hamsters?

  1. January 23rd, 2012 at 14:01 | #1