Fiat 500 Will Be in Chrysler Showrooms in 2010

Fiat 500 Convertible

Finally, something from Chrysler-Fiat that makes sense: importing the Fiat 500 to the U.S. Contrary to what some skeptics are saying, this move will help struggling Chrysler regain needed positive press and, perhaps, finally establish a niche market for its new products.

The 500 is a great car: well-designed, well-built, with an Italian flair that cannot be duplicated. A year ago, it was voted Best Compact Car in Japan by some 80,000 people polled. The MINI Cooper and the New Beetle have been named as competition. I think that’s wrong, as each car will appeal to rather distinct market segments: The Fiat is more of a city car, though I recently saw one on the Oaxaca-Mexico City autopista, and it was moving along smartly. The car will be built in Mexico—at Toluca, I think.

Three versions will come to the U.S. First, the basic 1.4-liter will arrive in late 2010 in “metro areas at select dealers that house all Chrysler Group LLC brands and will include a dedicated salon inside the dealership.” This will be followed in 2011 by the 500 convertible, with rollback top (above), and in 2012 by an Abarth 500 with turbocharger and, we assume, some suspension mods. Go to Carscoop for a slew of photos.

I honestly don’t see how Chrysler can survive with its present products. The company needs a dramatic and meaningful renaissance with new cars and a new thrust. The 500 could provide the beginning of that if, and it’s a big “if,” it is marketed to the buyers who will respond. The idea of putting it in select dealerships in metro areas makes good sense.

Lancia Delta 1.8Di TurboWhat is nonsense is the proposed merging of Lancia and Chrysler to create, in the words of one blogger, a “Frankenstein’s Monster.” This would be the ultimate rebadging folly, as both companies have become losers, though Lancia still survives by making small numbers of quality cars. Putting a Chrysler badge on the Lancia Delta 1.8 Di (above) which some think likely, would immediately transform a good car into an also-ran, in my opinion. Kind of like putting a Saturn label on an Alfa.

Give us your opinion on whether the Fiat 500 can carve out a niche for itself in the U.S. market.

—jgoods

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