Fiat dealers welcome a surge of promised products
Fiat dealers in the United States, struggling to turn a profit selling versions of just one nameplate, got great news last week.
The dealers will have at least 10 Fiat and Alfa Romeo nameplates in 2016, nearly all from Fiat factories in Europe, according to sources and a revised product plan released by Chrysler Group last week.
The plan suggests Chrysler will use Fiat to compete with Asian and other automakers in small and compact segments. Alfa will have compact and mid-sized vehicles, but roomy sedans, SUVs and pickups will be left mainly to the group's established American brands.
The product roadmap, revealed last week by Chrysler-Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne, sketches out changes in the automaker's vehicle plans through 2016 in North America.
Details are limited because while the plan identifies new vehicles and says when they will arrive, it doesn't specify their names or segments.
But judging by the plan, plus sources in Italy and the United States, in 2016 Fiat and Alfa dealers will sell at least five Fiat nameplates, including various versions of the 500 hatchback, and at least five Alfa nameplates.
Lisa Copeland, general manager of Fiat of Austin [Texas] and a member of the Chrysler National Dealer Council, is pumped.
"That's the best news we've had since we opened up," in early 2011, she said. The Austin store was the first Fiat dealership in the United States to sell more than 100 Fiat 500s in a month.
Copeland said the additional product offerings mean Fiat dealers are "going to be able to go head to head with the Japanese and the Koreans on every product they have."
The plan says Alfa Romeo will return to the United States this year, ending a virtual absence of 18 years. In recent years, Alfa has been selling a few units of the 8c Coupe and 8c Spider at Maserati dealerships.
Chrysler has yet to choose Alfa dealers but has said the franchises will mainly go to Fiat dealerships.
The comeback will begin with the Alfa Romeo 4C, a two-seat, rear-wheel-drive sports coupe that debuted as a concept at the 2011 Geneva auto show.
Marchionne said last month that the 4C is in final testing in Europe. Fiat plans to make about 2,500 units for sale around the world, he said.
Sources in Italy say the 4C will be followed in 2015 by the Alfa Giulia mid-sized sedan, which will ride on a stretched version of the Fiat platform that underlies the Dodge Dart.
Also scheduled for 2015 will be the Alfa Spider, a two-seat rwd coupe and a large rwd sedan based on the Maserati Ghibli, a Fiat spokesman in Turin said.
A fourth Alfa due in 2015 most likely will be a roadster version of the 4C coupe, sources in Italy indicate. In 2016, Alfa is expected to introduce a compact crossover that will share underpinnings with a redesigned Jeep Compass.
Marchionne has said that all the Alfa Romeos coming to North America will be assembled in Italy with the exception of the Spider, which will be built by Mazda in Japan.
He said last month at the Detroit auto show that Alfa's engine lineup wasn't yet right, and last week assigned Fiat-owned Ferrari to help complete Alfa's powertrain offerings.
Fiat's future product plan is less clear. In short, the plan and sources suggest that Fiat dealers will sell the existing 500 plus four new nameplates in 2016.
Here's how it breaks down: The four-door 500L that debuted last year at the Los Angeles Auto Show will arrive in showrooms in the second quarter, according to Chrysler. The car is not built on the 500 hatch platform, and thus is considered a new nameplate.
In 2015 and 2016, the plan shows seven new or redesigned vehicles due in U.S. showrooms.
Sources say that one of the seven will be the Fiat 500X subcompact crossover, a new nameplate that will share a platform with a new subcompact Jeep to be built in Italy.
The other six will be some combination of new nameplates and redesigns of existing 500s. But sources say two will most likely be new nameplates and four of the six will be redesigns of 500 versions already on sale or coming this year, the 500 hatch and convertible and the 500 Abarth hatch and convertible.
Variations of a nameplate, such as convertibles and coupes -- along with versions with different powertrains and trims -- are counted under the one nameplate by Automotive News.
Tim Kuniskis, head of the Fiat brand in North America, wouldn't comment on future product. But he did say Fiat dealers will benefit with a greater variety of vehicles to sell on their lots.
"The aggressive product plan outlined by Mr. Marchionne is great news for our network and totally consistent with our commitment to continue to grow the Fiat brand in North America," Kuniskis said in a written statement.
About half of Fiat's 201 dealerships are making money, brand executives said last fall. Dealers say the key to turning a consistent profit is new products.
"I'm definitely excited about it," said Niko Spasic, sales manager at Fiat of Van Nuys [Calif.] Alfa "is the best-looking sedan in Europe, in luxury and style -- it has everything. It will compete well."
Bob Davis, president of Glenn E. Thomas Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep-Ram near Long Beach, Calif., is just opening his Fiat studio. He said the product announcements about Fiat and Alfa mean his timing was just right.
"For us, we're just starting Fiat, we haven't even opened yet," Davis said. "I'm excited they're going to push some products our way. In Southern California, Fiat's the right car for this market. It's something we don't have anything similar on the Dodge, Chrysler or Jeep side, so we're optimistic."
Andrew Thurlow contributed to this report
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