When Fiat rolled out launch plans for its diminutive 500 city car, the Italian automaker was ambitious. Initial projections called for a network of 130 Fiat dealers selling some 35,000 cars in the U.S. this year. Instead, construction delays limited the number of dealerships for most of the year (although the total is now at 130), and a lack of advertising has left buyers confused about Fiat’s return to the U.S. market.
Through October, Fiat has sold just 15,826 Fiat 500 models in the U.S., and currently has a 184-day supply of inventory in the pipeline. A new ad campaign, starring Jennifer Lopez, will help, as will the upcoming launch of the enthusiast-focused Fiat 500 Abarth. None of that is enough to help workers in Chrysler’s Dundee, Michigan engine plant, which assembles the 1.4-liter mill used in the 500. Thirty employees have been laid off, while another 35 have been redeployed to other parts of the Dundee plant.
We’ve driven the Fiat 500, and are left wondering if personality is still enough to sell cars. If gas climbed above $5.00 per gallon and stayed there, we’d expect to see more consumer interest in the 500. As it stands now, the car is just too small and too underpowered to be appealing to Americans used to elbow room and acceleration. We think it’ll take more than an ad campaign to sell 500s on this side of the pond; what’s your take?