Fiat, SRT almost fill U.S. dealership networks
DETROIT -- Chrysler Group's two smallest brands -- Fiat and SRT -- have nearly filled out their dealership rosters in the United States.
Ralph Gilles, who heads the automaker's SRT brand, said 430 Chrysler Group dealerships have finished their training to sell the 2013 SRT Viper.
A Chrysler spokesman said dealers still may apply to sell the Viper, but no more dealerships will be added until production begins on 2014 models later this year.
SRT was given full brand status when Chrysler switched the Viper from Dodge to the performance brand.
To sell the Viper, dealers agreed to pay a $25,000 fee and undergo special training. Gilles said Chrysler recently finished training three waves of Viper specialists, including dealers, general managers and service personnel.
For SRT, 430 authorized dealers is slightly more than Gilles predicted would participate, given the Viper's limited annual production of about 2,000 units.
Gilles said Chrysler Group showed dealers, before they signed up to sell the Viper, their potential allocation of the 640-hp sports coupe. "We got a little more than we expected," Gilles said.
Meanwhile, Fiat now has 201 dealerships in the United States, including 34 dealerships that aren't otherwise associated with Chrysler, said Tim Kuniskis, who heads the Fiat brand in North America.
Chrysler's target for the network was 200 dealerships. CEO Sergio Marchionne had said delays in opening Fiat dealerships partly explained why the 500 had a slow launch in 2011.
"Our plan from when we started 13 months ago was to grow the network. We've made huge progress, so now the progress is going to slow down," Kuniskis said. Last year at this time Chrysler had about 130 Fiat stores in the United States.
Kuniskis said Fiat still has open points in its network, including Baltimore, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Naperville, Ill.
"We still have some really big markets that we don't have a dealer in yet, so we're still going to grow the market," Kuniskis said.
Olivier Francois, who heads the Fiat brand globally, said Fiat's growth in the United States last year -- sales rose 121 percent to 43,772 units -- is impressive.
"It took seven years for Mini to get to 44,000" units in the United States, Francois said. "It took five years for Kia to get to 44,000. Don't take for granted that 121 percent growth is normal; it's not."