DETROIT -- Chrysler dealer Bill Golling had a long list of questions last week for Chrysler Group executives about the Fiat franchise.
Golling, who is optimistic that his suburban Detroit location would be good for Fiat, reeled off a list of issues on his mind: "Where do they want the stores located? How many stores will there be? What is the business plan? What are the products? What segments? What's the profit opportunity?"
He was one of more than 500 dealers signed up to attend an event called "The Fiat Experience," scheduled for today, Aug. 30, at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Chrysler was expected to roll out its plans to bring the Italian brand back to the United States this year after a quarter-century absence.
Dealers have been eager to hear what kind of investment Chrysler will ask them to make and some idea of how soon that might turn a profit.
The company invited 548 dealers to attend, and more than 500 of those had registered by the deadline last week. Most are in urban areas that the company says have strong growth potential in small-car sales.
Some dealers initially were confused about whether the company would require them to have a separate building right from the launch.
Chrysler clarified that somewhat in a letter sent to dealers this month by Peter Grady, head of Chrysler's network development, and Laura Soave, head of Fiat North America: "The requirements for Fiat are straightforward: Separate sales and display at launch, transitioning to a full dealership facility as the volume grows."
Initially, the stores will have only one vehicle to sell: the Fiat 500 minicar, scheduled to arrive late this year or early next year. But other tantalizing possibilities loom beyond the four 500 models in the Fiat product plan.
For example, there's the Italian near-luxury brand Alfa Romeo. Chrysler and Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne said last week that Alfa Romeo vehicles probably would be sold in the Fiat stores. Alfa promises to broaden the appeal of the franchise considerably.
Alfa Romeo will re-enter the United States in 2012 with a mid-sized sedan and wagon, followed by a compact hatchback and two SUVs.
Golling has seen the Fiat 500 and is impressed with the car. He thinks the 500 is no toy car and has real possibilities, especially with uncertainty about fuel prices.
Said Golling of the 500: "I'm a big guy, and I can sit in it. It's a segment we've never had an entry in. What if gas is $5 a gallon? We all have to anticipate fuel prices are going to go up."
Like Golling, Philadelphia dealer David Kelleher was enthusiastic about Fiat last week but had a number of questions.
"This is not a rubber-stamp decision for me," said Kelleher. "I don't have a million bucks. The biggest investment is gestation time."