Fiat Hopes To Attract Luxe Buyers To $17,000 Fiat 500 With Style
It can if it's Italian and will soon be offered as a convertible and electric vehicle.
The new car is the Fiat 500, and it will start showing up in Fiat "Studios" any day now, starting in Los Angeles, and extending to 130 dealerships by the end of the year. Fiat USA's website has a full list of dealer locations.
The 500, of course, is the U.S. version of the Fiat Cinquecento that is offered today in Europe. The car seats four, has a 1.4 liter multi-air engine and comes offered in ten exterior colors and ten interiors. If you want to have a totally unique Fiat 500 in your neighborhood even if you aren't the only one, then it will be more than possible.
The entry-level car, the 500 "Pop," comes with a manual transmission, as does the mid-level version, the 500 "Sport." if you must have the automatic transmission, then you'll have to go for the top of the line "Lounge" edition.
The automatic was perfectly adequate during Luxist's drive of the car around San Diego, CA. But the manual will provide more driving enjoyment for those who like and can drive with a clutch and shifter.
The 500's EPA ratings are 30 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on highway. That's for the manual.
Cars equipped with the six-speed self-shifter will only achieve 27/34 mpg.
Fiat is making its re-entry to the U.S. after a 27 year hiatus. The Italian automaker in 2009 took control of U.S. automaker Chrysler as part of the company's bailout from the U.S. government and subsequent bankruptcy reorganization. Fiat is leveraging the Chrysler dealer network to re-introduce Fiat to American consumers, though the Fiat studios are, in many cases, in separate buildings from the Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep lineups.
It may be true, but industry analysts believe a lot of 500s will be bought up by baby boomers looking to make a style and youth statement. "Expressive vehicles like the Volkswagen New Beetle, MINI Cooper, Scon xB and Chrysler PT Cruiser all attracted a high percentage of baby boomers who were looking to make a statement about their psychological age," says marketing consultant Dennis Keene. "I expect that the 500 will follow that trend."
MINI Cooper has not only attracted baby boomers, but those with high incomes who often have a luxury brand on the other side of the garage. MINI's image has been helped with luxury buyers by the fact that it is owned by BMW. MINI, too, has performance credentials that the 500 can't claim yet.
But Fiat is not without its luxury and performance bloodlines. Let's not forget that it's corporate siblings are Lancia, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari and Maserati.
"Luxury car buyers tend to be attracted to design icons even if they are not priced as luxury," says Keene. "I can totally see this car on the other side of the garage from a Mercedes, BMW or Maserati even if the gardener is driving one too...the car has that sort of the transcendent quality not unlike the VW Beetle had for many in the 1960s."
Starting in 2012, Alfa Romeo vehicles will be sold alongside Fiats in the "Studios."
Later this year, a Cabrio version of the 500 will be launched. And an electric version will be introduced in the Fall.
The appeal of the 500 is that it looks fun, cute and European. It could become the Swatch of little cars. The body-colored dashboard [pictured in gallery] makes for a fun looking interior. It does not offer a navigation screen. But iPod connectivity and bluetooth for phone is no problem.
For those remembering nightmares of Fiat quality when it was last in the U.S. market, the 500 has been a refreshing change. Fiat has improved quality across the board. But the 500 seems especially well screwed together. In France, the 500 was number-one last year in J.D. Power's Customer Satisfaction Study among city cars.
Gallery: Fiat 500