Fiat to expand automatics in 500 lineup

Fiat expects sales of the 500 Abarth to rise.

DETROIT -- Fiat will offer an optional automatic transmission in the top performance versions of the 500 minicar in the United States for the 2015 model year.

The six-speed Aisin automatic will be available on 2015 Fiat 500 Abarth and Turbo models after they go into production in July, said Jason Stoicevich, head of the brand in North America.

Brand executives say the automatic will broaden the models' sales appeal.

Since its introduction in 2012, the 160-hp Fiat 500 Abarth has been available only with a manual transmission. The Abarth accounts for about 15 percent of Fiat 500 sales. Stoicevich said the lack of an automatic is the biggest reason Fiat customers turn down an Abarth.

"Frankly, [young people] just don't drive a manual transmission," he said, adding that the addition of an automatic could give the performance versions as much as a 50 percent sales lift.

Stoicevich said versions of the 500 will receive a new 7-inch electronic display in its instrument cluster for the 2015 model year, making more performance and diagnostic information available to the driver.

U.S. sales of the Fiat brand, which includes the 500 and the larger 500L, had a record month in March with 4,738 sales. But sales of the Fiat 500 were down 13 percent to 3,316 units from the same month a year ago.

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