BALTIMORE -- Fiat is hiring its own field staff to work with its 205 U.S. dealerships as the brand starts selling its first four-door hatchback, the 500L.
Fiat dealerships had been handled by factory reps that also visited Chrysler stores. Most Fiat dealerships are owned by Chrysler dealers.
Fiat has already begun to hire about 50 people nationwide to work with Fiat dealerships on marketing and customer satisfaction issues, said Jason Stoicevich, the new North American head of the Fiat brand.
Stoicevich, who is also head of Chrysler Group's California business center, piloted a separate team for Fiat dealerships there last year and expanded it to Chrysler's eight other business centers this month.
Under the new plan, each regional business center will have one senior manager, as many as five managers for sales issues and at least one service manager who will work only with Fiat dealerships.
The result is that most Fiat factory representatives will be responsible for about seven dealerships, compared with a Chrysler representative in the same region that might have responsibility for twice that number of dealerships, a Chrysler spokesman said.
"In a Chrysler showroom, you're talking about an entirely different set of priorities," said Stoicevich, who regularly visited both Fiat and Chrysler dealerships as head of the California business center.
"I did this because I wanted to make sure that [Fiat dealers] were being provided with exceptional service because the priority list was so different."
Through May, Fiat's U.S. sales rose 5 percent to 17,562. The U.S. market increased 7 percent in the same period.
Stoicevich, 33, took over as head of Fiat when Tim Kuniskis vacated the role to take over running the Dodge brand.
The factory reps will be frequent visitors to their Fiat dealerships, Stoicevich said, aiding in marketing and customer advocacy. "We know it's a different experience [at a Fiat dealership], but we need it to be an excellently different experience. Advocacy will be just as important as the sales responsibility."