“Issues with production, dealer profitability. As all of that started to wane, you had dealers disengaging. It got really tough,” she said. “I still fundamentally believe that it’s a really cool car with a cool heritage. I don’t think we did a great job of carrying that messaging into the U.S.”
Asked about the brand’s future, an FCA spokesman said Fiat “continues to offer an attainable all-turbo lineup of Italian-designed, fun-to-drive cars” in North America with the 500, 500X, 500L and the 124 Spider. The spokesman, in a statement, said that, “as outlined in the five-year plan last year, Fiat (together with Chrysler and Dodge) will get 25 percent of investment spend and represent 20 [percent] of net revenues.”
But at the brand’s current sales trajectory, there soon won’t be much left in which to invest. In April, Daimler said it was pulling the plug on its small-car brand, Smart, amid similar struggles.
Fiat has 377 U.S. dealerships, which it calls studios. Of those, 281 are tied to Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram showrooms, 90 are paired with Alfa Romeo and six are standalone stores.
As the brand’s challenges mounted, FCA agreed in 2016 to no longer require separate Fiat showrooms. It also offered rent assistance to dealers who continued to operate standalone stores.
But the help came too late for Kelly Automotive Group, which gave up its Fiat franchise in December 2015, said COO Brian Heney.
The Danvers, Mass., group opened one of the first Fiat stores in New England in December 2011. Heney said the initial excitement surrounding Fiat was done in by a shallow product portfolio, and the group ended up losing millions on the brand.
“We always said Fiat would be fine if we could move it into our Jeep-Chrysler store and put them together,” Heney said. “They told us, ‘No, no, no.’ Then after we turned it back in, that’s what they allowed dealers to do. It was too little, too late for us.”