Some perspective on Fiat 500 sales

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A friend of mine recently had the grace to point out something that I and much of the rest of the automotive press failed to notice in our rush to pass judgment on the launch of the Fiat 500.

Like a child who finally has grown taller than an elderly relative, the diminutive subcompact has topped the recently discontinued Dodge Caliber in sales in each of the last four months.

Granted, the Caliber has been on the way out for a while, and the odor of impending doom is never good for sales. Chrysler Group ended production of the compact five-door hatchback last month and will introduce its replacement, the 2013 Dodge Dart, on Monday at the Detroit auto show.

Like passing your 4-foot-11-inch grandmother, this is not by any means a spectacular achievement, and the Caliber and 500 are very different vehicles sold in very different ways. But until the Fiat 500 went on sale in the United States in March, the compact Caliber had been the car that dealers were forced to lean on when customers asked for Chrysler Group's smallest and most fuel-efficient vehicle.

Still, Caliber sales averaged 2,920 units per month over 2011, but just 1,753 units a month after August and 1,417 in December. Meanwhile, the Fiat 500 averaged sales of 1,977 units during its first 10 months on the market, 2,170 units per month since the end of August, and 2,325 units sold in December.

Despite their many issues, these are two vehicles whose sales are headed in different directions. One is destined for history's dustbin as dealers clear out remaining inventories. As for the other? Let's just say it's in serious need of a sustained growth spurt if it wants to stand tall.

You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at lvellequette@crain.com.

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