Fiat 500 Abarth with automatic transmission should broaden appeal, exec says

Chrysler began building Fiat 500 Abarths equipped with six-speed automatic transmissions this month.
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CHELSEA, Mich. -- The North American head of the Fiat brand said that adding an optional automatic transmission to its performance Fiat 500 Abarth would open up the sporty minicar to a much wider number of potential customers.

Jason Stoicevich, head of the Fiat brand in North America, said on Thursday that U.S. Abarth sales were up 16 percent this year, even though only a manual transmission is currently available.

Stoicevich said the biggest reason for those that shop but don’t buy: lack of an automatic transmission.

“That was the only reason for rejection, Stoicevich said. “It was just, ‘I don’t want to drive a stick, or I can’t drive a stick.’”

Chrysler Group began building Fiat 500 Abarths equipped with six-speed Aisin automatic transmissions this month in Mexico. Matt Davis, head of marketing for the Fiat brand in North America, said the automatics are expected to arrive in Fiat showrooms beginning in July.

“[The automatic transmission] now opens up a breadth of opportunity for millennials and Gen Xers that just don’t know how to drive a manual or just like the convenience of an automatic,” Davis said, adding that about half of the segment the Abarth competes in is made up of automatic transmission vehicles.

The new transmission sacrifices little power for the vehicle, with 157 horsepower compared the manual’s 160, and about an 8 percent increase in torque. The Sport mode calibration allows for the experience of driving with a manual transmission without the need for a clutch.

“We didn’t just throw an automatic transmission into the vehicle,” Davis said. “We’ve added some characteristics of the vehicle that would react as if you had a manual transmission.”

Such features include fuel-cut upshifts, rev-matching downshifts, brake-assist downshifts, corner gear hold and fast-off gear hold.

Davis said the automatic option will cost about an additional $1,250, however, further pricing information for the 2015 Abarth has not been released. The 2014 manual transmission Abarth has a base price of $23,045, including delivery.

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