DETROIT -- Fiat dealers in the U.S. have had to be patient. For example, a recall placed a stop-sale order on half of the brand's two-car lineup for several months in the summer, crimping sales.
Jason Stoicevich, 35, who heads the Fiat brand in North America, told Staff Reporter Larry P. Vellequette that help is coming for Fiat dealers.
Q: What's your message to Fiat dealers?
A: From our perspective, 2014 was the best year that we've had since the brand came back. But the reality is, it's where we go from here. It's breaking this record year that we set by quite a bit and then getting into the next vehicle for Fiat, the 500X. That will be here in the States in Q2 of this year.
Do you see any competitiveness between the Fiat 500X and the new Jeep Renegade?
I think the consumers are completely different. They'd have to do a whole lot of research to realize these are built in the same plant on the same platform, and this one's a Fiat and that's a Jeep. I think it's a nice one-two punch for FCA to have these two vehicles launching at the same time.
The brand had record U.S. sales last year, but some dealers are still struggling with new-car sales numbers. Are they complaining?
The reality is that we had a ton of momentum taken out of the system [with the stop-sale order on the 500L].
I feel that, when you have a car like the 500X coming around the corner, it's easy to get excited again. Alfa Romeo is coming. Granted, the Alfa volumes are limited today, but all of the things that the dealers expected to have when dealers signed up for the franchise are now coming together. We've got a lot of stuff coming. We've got some tricks up our sleeve that will give us a nice little shot in the arm for the brand and get us rolling ahead of 500X.
Fiat will soon have its second generation of 500s and 500Ls, the first that will be done with feedback from existing North American customers. How will those vehicles change?
With the hatchback, we have to be very careful with this car because it is an icon. ... You have to be careful how much you change the exterior. A lot of the attention has been put on the interior. You'll see updated radios for the 2016 model year. On the 500L, we went to having the Aisin six-speed [automatic] transmission as an offering, for those that weren't comfortable with the DDCT.
Have dealers largely been patient?
It's been a little bit of a grind, but we have a hell of a dealer body. From a traffic perspective, that 500X changes everything, and traffic is what all dealers need.