Why the next wave of Italians is important

Automotive News | March 27, 2013 - 12:56 pm EST

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NEW YORK -- The next wave of Italians has arrived, as the wall at the Fiat stand here proclaims: The 500, 500c, 500e and 500L.

You might argue there's only one Italian in U.S. Fiat stores -- the 500 -- and that until dealers get some more product, Fiat is extending the brand any which way it can.

But there's another side to the proliferation of 500s, which you can see just a couple stands away at Mini. That brand's plenitude of variants at this show includes a limited-run surfer woody kind of mini-minivan and the born-to-zoom John Cooper Works Paceman.

Mini has had an amazing run, defining a niche and expanding into every crevice of the Euro-stylish, performance subcompact market. It's also largely been unchallenged in its little (pun intended) world -- until now. It's quite clear that Fiat isn't merely playing for time with attention-getting variations on the 500. It's running the Mini playbook.

Abarth, for instance, equals Cooper S. And the Fiat 500L is far roomier than the base 500, offering a similar option to the Mini Clubman and Countryman.

Clearly, there's competition in Mini-land.

It's quite clear that Fiat isn't merely playing for time with attention-getting variations on the 500. It's running the Mini playbook.

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