At last Fiat gaining a foothold in U S car market

25 Май 2014 | Author: | Комментарии к записи At last Fiat gaining a foothold in U S car market отключены
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At last, Fiat gaining a foothold in U.S. car market

Updated

By Brent Snavely, USA TODAY and the Detroit Free Press

A year after the troubled re-launch of Fiat in the U.S. there are signs the brand is closer to getting on the right track.

In February, Fiat had its best month yet in the U.S. with sales of 3,227. As of last week, Fiat 500 sales for March were on pace to do even better, said Timothy Kuniskis, head of the Fiat brand.

I’m holding my breath, but to beat February would be a big, big win for us, Kuniskis said last week.

Other than increasing profits, fixing the Fiat brand’s initially slow launch would help validate Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne’s vision for the combined companies.

It also would help to improve relations with dealers who took a risk opening expensive, stand-alone shops that so far feature only one model. Those same dealers eventually will be called on to re-launch the Alfa Romeo brand in the U.S.

In recent months, Fiat’s edgy marketing has helped raise awareness and enthusiasm for the entire Fiat brand, especially the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, a performance model that begins arriving in showrooms this month.

The two-door Fiat 500 hatchback, which is available now, also comes as a convertible. Production of an electric Fiat 500 will begin by year’s end, and the larger and longer five-door 500L arrives next year.

I’ve already got 16,000 people saying, ‘I want information on this car,’ Kuniskis said of the Abarth, which was featured in a Super Bowl ad and also during the NCAA tournament last week.

Carl Galeana, who has Fiat dealerships in Sterling Heights and Fort Myers, Fla. said he is more optimistic about the brand’s future than he was six months ago:


We did not have any marketing support at all when we started, Galeana said. Since we’ve started to really launch the brand, we finally got some awareness building.

So far this month, Galeana has sold 20 Fiat 500s, and is on track for his best month yet.

Savvy marketing

Fiat, the majority owner of Chrysler, unveiled the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth at the L.A. Auto Show in November and began marketing it on YouTube with a commercial called Seduction, ranked 19th on USA TODAY’s ad-meter rankings out of about 60 commercials.

Fiat now has three commercials airing on TV: Seduction, House Arrest, featuring Hollywood bad boy Charlie Sheen, and Baby, a follow-up to Seduction.

At Golling Fiat in Birmingham, Ala. 14 customers have put down deposits for the Abarth without even seeing the actual car, said Michael Golling, studio director.

That car has created a lot of buzz for us, he said.

Slow out of the gate

The petite Fiat 500 went on sale last March after a 28-year absence in the U.S. At the time, only about 30 dealerships were open nationwide, and the company waited until August to launch a national marketing campaign.

Marchionne initially hoped to sell 50,000 Fiat 500s in North America last year, but the company sold only 26,294. Laura Soave, head of Fiat North America, left the firm in November.

Marchionne has since acknowledged that 50,000 was an overly optimistic estimate and has said 25,000 to 35,000 is a better target for sales this year.

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Now, Fiat has 142 U.S. dealers and should reach 200 by the end of 2013, Kuniskis said.

But Jim Hall, managing director of 2953 Analytics in Birmingham, questions those who say Fiat’s first year was a failure.

Hall compares Fiat with the 2002 launch of the Mini. That year, BMW sold 24,590 Minis in the U.S. — just 5,000 more than Fiat, which sold 19,769 in the U.S. last year.

Mini was launched at a time when the economy was exploding with a gorilla marketing campaign that started about 11 months before they launched the car, Hall said.

Fiat, in contrast, was launched without an early national marketing campaign in a much slower economy.

I don’t consider their launch a failure or even a troubled one, Hall said.

Waiting for Alfa

The bigger challenge, Hall argues, is finding a way to boost sales enough to allow dealers to survive until Alfa Romeo is reintroduced in the U.S. and dealers can add some more choices.

Even with improving sales, dealers must sell more cars to operate their dealerships profitably with a limited lineup.

But dealers, like Bill Golling in Birmingham and Galeana in Sterling Heights, built their Fiat studios so that they could also sell the Alfa Romeo brand.

Initially scheduled to be introduced in 2012, Fiat delayed introduction of Alfa Romeo until next year.

Golling’s 14,500-square-foot dealership in Birmingham sits near Fred Lavery Porsche Audi and Land Rover on Woodward Avenue. Alfa is expected to be a head-to-head competitor with Audi and other similar luxury brands.

If this is a good location for Fiat, this is a great location for Alfa, Golling said.

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