If you are surprised to see Fiat back selling its wares on our shores then you really shouldn’t be as the Italian automaker has been powering Chrysler through its post-Bankruptcy launches. Yes, Fiat owns Chrysler. That’s just in case you live in a remote cabin in the woods which is really only understandable in the case of the Unabomber.
So with every Chrysler, Dodge or Jeep that is sold you will be buying into the Italian dream instead of the American dream. Sort of puts a damper on your whole concept of “foreign,” “domestic” and “The Big Three” now doesn’t it?
Fiat took a controlling interest in Chrysler when that company entered bankruptcy proceedings and has continually increased its ownership stake since that whole process began. Chrysler, unfortunately, did not have a very full plate of new vehicles lined up as previous owner Cerebrus starved them for development cash as part of their “master plan.” Great “plan” guys.
So now Fiat is offering up its advanced small car engineering know how, its knack for interior designs (this has already born fruit at Jeep which now boasts some of the nicest interiors in the SUV business) and a knack for fuel efficiency with its hyper-advanced Multi-Air engines which improve power and fuel economy by up to 15%. Multi-Air is scheduled to be rolled out on most Chrysler engines over the next year or two which should give them a serious edge against Ford and GM in the fuel economy wars.
So what has Fiat getting in return? They got Chrysler’s workforce, dealerships and North American factories for nothing (they just gave up their “intellectual property”) but most importantly they also got a readymade avenue to start building and selling the Fiat 500 micro car here on US Soil.
The 500 has been a worldwide hit for Fiat and it looks set to be another small car trend setter much like the Mini and Smart car both were to varying degrees of success. At the recent 2010 LA Auto Show I got a close up look at some pre-production versions and my only issue was that there was some cheap feeling plastic on the doors and bottom of the dash. It seems odd that Fiat would fix Jeep’s own interiors and then neglect its own that way.
Although pricing has yet to be announced, this segue into interior cost cutting is clearly a sign that Fiat wants to seriously undercut the Mini on price. The rest of the dashboard is a delightful blend of minimalist simplicity that would make the interior stand head and shoulders above the Mini if the plastics were improved.
Do be aware the back seat is best left to those with really small legs but headroom it even has a decent cargo area. Okay, it’s enough for a single person’s groceries but it is head and shoulders above the mail slot that qualifies as a cargo area in the upcoming Scion iQ.
The first 2011 Fiat 500 models will be equipped with a 1.4 liter 110 horsepower/133 lb. feet of torque. Fuel economy numbers are not out yet but expect them to be good as this will be the premiere of the first Multi-Air engine in the United States. Later in the model cycle it is expected that Fiat will launch a performance turbocharged Abarth model to compete with Mini’s Cooper S range.
Prices have not yet been released but there will be three trim levels for the 500 known as the Pop, Sport and Lounge. My advice is to steer clear of the Pop and I am sure most buyers will do just that as most Mini buyers don’t buy lightly optioned variants. The 500 isn’t a practical automotive choice by any means but it suits some people’s life or can be easily used as a 3rd car in a family.
Like the Mini there are plenty of ways to option up your 2011 Fiat 500. A dazzling array of exterior colors, interior colors, interior fabrics and even 3 steering wheel colors all mean there is no reason you should own a “me-too” 500.
So it’s stylish, cute, unfailingly fashionable, most likely affordable and efficient? Sounds like a hit as long as Fiat really gets the quality right these first few years. No one wants a new generation of car buyers to learn to associate “Fix It Again Tony” with another unreliable Fiat as was the case during their last go round in the United States. But hey, don’t we all deserve a second chance?
Chrysler Media Page