LUCA CIFERRI

Italy-born, Mexico-built, China-sold Fiat 500 epitomizes auto globalization

Luca Ciferri is chief correspondent at Automotive News EuropeLuca Ciferri is chief correspondent at Automotive News Europe
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When looking at the Fiat 500 minicar here at the Shanghai auto show my head starts to spin thinking about the global odyssey it took to get here.

Before me is a car originally designed and engineered in Italy. It was then adapted by Chrysler engineers in Auburn Hills, Michigan, to meet U.S. safety and emission standards. The tweaked 500, which is sold under license in North America by Chysler, is built at Chrysler's factory in Toluca, Mexico. That version is being shipped to China, where a joint venture between Fiat and local partner Guangzhou Automobile Co. (GAC) will sell it starting in September.

Wow!

The price of the 500 in China has not been announced yet, but it will be positioned midway between two other tiny European icons aimed at affluent Chinese buyers: Daimler's Smart ForTwo and the Mini from BMW Group.

Starting in 2012, Fiat expects to sell just 5,000 units a year of the 500 in China – the world's biggest market – which seems like a modest goal for Europe's second-best-selling minicar (the Fiat Panda is No. 1).

But this target is a reminder that Fiat is starting from scratch in China, where it will have just 34 dealers selling the 500 this year. The dealer network is expected to grow to 100 by the end of 2012.

By that time, Fiat and GAC are due to start making a Fiat-badged version of the Dodge Caliber replacement in China.

You can reach Luca Ciferri at lciferri@crain.com.

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