Olivier Francois, CEO of the Fiat brand, announced a new vehicle will be joining the 500 and Abarth at North American dealers next year.
Francois described the new car, which will be introduced at the Geneva Auto Show in March, will be a larger, 5-door vehicle “related to” the 500, a description that leaves many avenues of speculation wide open. Variations on the Cinquecento platform underpin the Fiat Bravo, the Lancia Ypsilon and the Brazilian-market Palio all of which are five-door hatchbacks. Of course, it may be that Fiat design director Roberto Giolito will create a new style that is more closely “related to” the 500.
A lot of people are spinning this as a rescue of the 500, which didn’t reach even 40 percent of the projected first year’s sales of 50,000 units. Fiat/Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne admitted the launch was botched, which it was, and the delay of the new Alfa Romeo, which was supposed to join the 500 next year, hasn’t helped. But one of the major problems was a lack of dealers. The idea was to have 150 franchises up and running but now, a year later, that number still hasn’t been reached and for much of the year, there were fewer than 100 dealers offering the Fiat line. There are still 12 states that don’t even have a single Fiat franchise.
The addition of a new model also could help Fiat in other markets, including Europe. The picture for new vehicle sales in the European Union seems to get bleaker by the day and the competition has always been fierce. Fiat is hampered by a relatively old product line just at a time it needs fresh faces to be competitive. Choosing the Geneva show, instead of Chicago or New York, for the introduction adds credence to this view.
To really rescue the Fiat brand, Olivier Francois needs get serious about a real promotional launch for the brand. One would have thought that the experience gained from the Celine Dion/Chrysler Pacifica blunder would have made the folks in Auburn Hills a bit more careful. When word got out that their highly touted deal with singer Jennifer Lopez didn’t include Lopez actually driving the car in Brooklyn, it cost Fiat a fair amount of credibility among the members of the target demographic. On the other hand, the brilliant “Seduction” spot created by the Richards Group of Dallas for the online and VH1 audience created major-league buzz for the Italian pocket rocket with a million YouTube hits in the first week and has gone to “pop-ups” on VH1. In other words, straight to the 500′s target market.