In the U.S., more Jeeps are sold every four days than the number of Fiats likely to be purchased in all of 2019.
That's the bleak reality for Fiat, a brand whose stylish Italian veneer and youthful energy have been sapped by an unforgiving market.
Lower gasoline prices removed a major selling point for the brand's small cars, and its road map has no clear destination. One Fiat dealer described the factory's guidance about the brand's future as "radio silence."
This wasn't how the late FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne drew it up. The hard-charging executive compiled a list of successes with his stewardship of the profitable Jeep and Ram brands, but a U.S. comeback by Fiat isn't among them.
"They came out thinking Fiat was going to be Gucci, that it would be this sophisticated thing," said one Northeast dealer who was awarded a Fiat franchise in 2010 but backed out before building a store. "As time evolved, it became obvious to us that this was a dream in someone's brain named Sergio Marchionne."
Fiat targeted U.S. sales of 50,000 vehicles in 2011 and 78,000 in 2013. Instead, after peaking at 46,121 five years ago, sales are on pace to fall short of 10,000 this year, and its market share sits at less than one-tenth of 1 percent. Fiat entered May with nearly six months of inventory, according to the Automotive News Data Center, the most in the industry.
Former Fiat dealer Lisa Copeland remembers when things were different. Copeland said her Texas store thrived initially because it understood its base and the experience it needed to provide. Fiat of Austin captivated visitors with a fashionable mystique — complete with an in-store runway — that made it a powerhouse within the brand's dealer network. Its 972 deliveries in 2012 led all Fiat dealerships and earned a visit from Marchionne.
But a few years later, mounting challenges were taking a significant toll on dealers, including Copeland.