* Fiat cars returned to U.S. after 16-year absence
* First volume Alfa Romeo expected in U.S. in 2014
* Some U.S. Fiat dealers struggling with limited lineup
* U.S. sales up in line with overall industry in 2013
By Bernie Woodall
DETROIT, May 10 A meeting of U.S. Fiat dealers
to discuss future products, including the arrival of Alfa Romeo
models, has twice been postponed and no new date has been set,
several Fiat dealers said this week.
Some of the 204 U.S. Fiat dealers are struggling to turn a
profit selling several versions of the Fiat 500 subcompact and
some dealers said they anxiously await more details from
Chrysler and its Italian parent, Fiat SpA, on plans to
expand products beyond what has been already announced.
Fiat returned to the U.S. market in March 2011 with 40
dealers after a 16-year absence selling a single product, the
two-door Fiat 500, largely known outside North America as the
The Italian carmaker, led by hard-charging Chief Executive
Officer Sergio Marchionne, took over management of Chrysler
after the No. 3 U.S. automaker's 2009 bankruptcy, partly on the
promise it would make the company less reliant on gas-guzzling
pickup trucks and SUVs.
The Fiat brand's return to the United States was not part of
the bankruptcy deal. Fiat the corporate parent owns 61.5 percent
of Chrysler and Marchionne hopes to buy the remaining shares and
merge the two companies.
Gary Brown is the new chairman of the Chrysler Dealer
Council. He owns a Fiat dealership on Long Island in New York,
which sits 60 feet from his primary store, which sells the
higher volume Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and Ram Truck brands.
Brown says he has full faith that Marchionne and his
executives will make Fiat dealers successful in the long run,
but he is among those having a hard time selling only one style
"I'm struggling to break even," said Brown. "With the one
car in a small (volume) segment, it's a tough go right now."
Brown said he is counting on the launch of the longer,
four-door 500L this summer, which is expected to arrive at
showrooms in June or July. A limited edition of a two-seat
sports car called the 4C will be the first Alfa Romeo to hit the
U.S. market late this year or in early 2014, but a higher-volume
Alfa car is not expected until 2014.
"The real key is rolling out new product, additional
offerings," said Brown. "The four-door (500L) is really going to
be a shot in the arm. It will put a franchise on more people's
radar as they are shopping for a small car."
Brown and several other Fiat dealers said Chrysler officials
did not inform them why a Fiat dealer meeting to be held at
Chrysler's headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan, on April 20
was postponed to May 20 only to have that one postponed as well.
One dealer who wished to remain anonymous assumes there is
another delay in the schedule to bring Fiat's sporty lineup from
Alfa Romeo to the United States.
A Fiat spokesman declined to comment on the meetings, saying
they are internal matters between the company and its dealers.
He pointed to plans to introduce the bigger, four-door 500L this
summer and for the first Alfa Romeo, a limited-edition two-seat
sports car, the 4C, to arrive late this year or early 2014.
Tom Libby, lead analyst for Polk's North American
forecasting, said that initially, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta
hatchback was to get to the U.S. market in April 2010. That has
been pushed back several times to April 2014, he said.
And the larger sedan, the Giulia, is now expected to arrive
in June 2015, Libby said.
Chrysler and Fiat officials declined to comment on he
arrival dates for the Giulietta and the Giulia.
QUICKER TO 40,000
In 2012, Fiat sold 43,772 500s in the United States.
Through April this year, Fiat's U.S. sales were up 6 percent
to 13,511, in line with the growth of the domestic new vehicle
While sales are still relatively slight for Fiat, it made it
to 40,000 annual sales in its second full year in the U.S.
By comparison, BMW AG's Mini subcompact took four
years to reach that level after it was introduced in 2002,
according to TrueCar.com.
The lineup of Kia Motors Corp also passed 40,000
in sales in its fourth year in the United States, according to
Three analysts, Libby, Alec Gutierrez of KBB and Kristen
Andersson of TrueCar each said they think Fiat will be
successful in the U.S. market and dealers who are not turning a
profit now will be once the product lineup broadens.
"I'm more optimistic than I was about year ago" about Fiat's
U.S. success, said Libby.
The brand will gain as more Americans turn to smaller cars
that are more fuel-efficient. The subcompact segment is growing,
(Additional reporting by Jennifer Clark in Milan and Andre