Fiat 500 is being cute enough?
For years, small cars have been like bran cereal for most U.S. buyers: They'll buy them when then really have to, but as soon as they get regular again, it's buh, bye!
As an example, Honda sold 53,299 Civics in May of 2008 and only 17,302 in December of 2008, that's around a 67% drop. Granted there were other factors at play, but the economic meltdown doesn't explain the entire drop, lower gas prices had a lot to do with it.
As I reported yesterday, Fiat will offer at least four versions of its 500 for American buyers to choose from. Will that kind of selection prevent a rapid rise and fall like smart has experienced? Fiat would much rather emulate MINI which has cultivated a profitable niche for its relatively expensive, small cars here in the USA.
If Fiat can position the 500 as a lower cost MINI competitor, its stand to reap tremendous benefits: Not only through direct sales, but also through dealership traffic. A small car like the 500 is never going to sell in huge numbers here in the States, but it can act like a drop of honey attracting buyers that will ultimately drive off with another Chrysler product.
If nothing else, the Fiat 500 will signal to Americans that the reinvention of Chrysler has begun. Even though the 500 won't be labeled as a Chrysler, it will be the first obvious mark of the company's new Italian overlords. For that reason alone, the importance of the Fiat 500 in America cannot be overstated.