But this time they can’t be blamed on the car.
History may be about to repeat itself — for Fiat.
The Italian automaker’s first U.S. model since 1987 is apparently a flop… so far, at least.
According to the Detroit News and DailyTech, only about 12,000 Fiat 500s have been sold to date — which is barely a fourth of the 50,000 units annually projected by Fiat management.
But this time, it’s probably not the car that’s the problem.
Small, fuel-efficient — and fun — cars are very much in. Minis are moving, despite some significant early teething problems with quality control. The Mazda3 is popular, too, and it’s only slightly larger than the 500.
In Fiat’s case, there aren’t any. Or rather, there are far too few.
In Virginia, for instance, there are only three Fiat stores — and they’re all clustered in Northern Virginia within 50 miles of downtown Washington, D.C. Two of them — the Vienna and Alexandria stores — are within 20 miles of each other.
This means that anyone potentially interested in a 500 who doesn’t actually live within the D.C. Beltway is very likely going to cross the 500 off their list simply because it’s too much of a hassle to go look at one. Let alone face the prospect, down the road, of having to do overnight (or at least, all-day) drives to a dealership that’s 100, 150 or 200 miles from home.
I did a little checking and it’s easier to find a Porsche dealer in my part of Virginia than it is to find a Fiat store. There’s one here in Roanoke — 200 miles away from Northern Virginia. The closest Fiat store to me is in Richmond — a three hour drive (one way) away.
Now, I really like the 500. In fact, I like it better than the Mini, because it’s just as cute and equally fun to drive but costs $4,000 less ($15,00 to start vs. $19,500). It also gets 2-3 MPG better gas mileage than the Mini. For the money, it’s hard to beat. And money notwithstanding, the 500 is a neat little car; a low-cost runabout that’s highway-viable (unlike the idiotic SmartCar two-seater) but not a depressing little outhouse, either.
There’s a lot of aftermarket support for these cars and Fiat sells a hopped-up Abarth version that I’d be very interested in.
But I would not buy one because of the dealer scarcity-remoteness issue.
And it’s madness for Fiat management to believe anyone other than the most dedicated, gotta-have-this-car people will, either.
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Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
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It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
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