This just in, the sky is not falling on the new Fiat 500...
"Fiat’s U.S. chief ousted after poor Fiat 500 sales start," reads the Nov. 21 USA Today headline.
Unfortunately, as often is the case, the reporting on Fiat’s slower than hoped for re-entry into the North American market has been accompanied with precious little perspective. With more than 20,000 Fiat 500 sales in the US and Canada, there’s no arguing it will not achieve its overly-optimistic goal of selling 50,000 units this year.
Now let’s put that and the controversial ouster of Fiat ‘s North American head Laura Soave in perspective.
To start with, it was barely one year ago that Fiat even selected its first 130 dealers. Not much more than a week before Thanksgiving and directly into the headwinds of the holiday season. No way, given that late start and the requirement that dealers build freestanding Fiat Studios, could Fiat achieve that stated sales goal.
The first token Fiat wasn’t delivered until March and it was April before the cars first trickled into KC.
Heading into the summer only a fraction of the Fiat dealers were open for business and it wasn’t until mid-late summer that Fiat’s dealer network began to hit critical mass. It’s hard to sell cars with no dealers, especially in today’s economy and when targeting the denizens of the Occupy Wall Street Generation.
Now let’s do a bit of comparing what Herman Cain likes to refer to as "apples and oranges."
Many in the media point to the success of the Mini Cooper, the Fiat 500s main rival here.
However, they do so while providing absolutely zero perspective on the Mini’s return to this country. One that began 10 years ago – a decade – in the year 2001 when the economy was far stronger. The cars were first sold out of BMW dealerships who jammed the Minis in alongside Bimmers with no requirements that dealers invest millions in new facilities.
So how did the Mini’s launch compare to that of the 500?
When Mini tipped off in March of 2002 it did so with a modest-but-realistic sales target of 20,000 units.
That’s fewer than half the target Fiat foolishly set for the 500 this year. And after 13 months it had sold just over 30,000 cars. Now let’s do the math; with 20,000 Fiats in the bank to date, it’s likely a safe bet that by the end of April the 500 will have equaled or exceeded the Mini’s sales number. Especially now that the lion’s share of its dealers are up and running.
Again, remember this in an economy far worse than the one the Mini faced 10 years ago.
Today the Mini Cooper offers no less than six different models, most of which are offered in standard and perfromance versions. Forget the "10 million possible combinations" bs, at present the Mini has three times as many different models as the Fiat 500, which only offers a hardtop and convertible. A high performance Fiat Abarth is slated for spring
That’s a big benefit of Mini’s 10 year headstart, but remember it didn’t happen overnight.
Even with all those different models, Mini sold only 38.000 cars and change through October.
Given all of that, at first blush it would appear that Soave’s ouster may have been little more than a face-saving head-rolling by Fiat’s corporate cats who made the now embarrassing sales forecast in the first place.
Then came an astonishing comment on the Web site of Automotive News in its report of Soave’s firing.
"Everyone is missing the entire point that Chrysler is covering up the fact that Ms. Soave was having an affair with the head of the ad agency that she hired to handle Fiat’s affairs," posted registered Automotive News commenter R Taylor. "In addition, auditors were sent into the agency’s offices to investigate fraud."
Not surprisingly the comment was not long for this world.
"Oops! This isn’t what you expected!" the link now reads. "The page you were looking for has moved. We’re sorry, but the page you requested is no longer available or not found on our server. We apologize for any inconvenience."
The bottom line being that while Fiat was way optimistic in its launch timetable and sales forecast, all things considered, it’s not doing that bad.
You want optimism? try this.
In just over a week, the ad for the Fiat Abarth on YouTube has garnered more than 1.3 million views.
I remember the Land Rover salesman in Chattanooga traveling to Kingdom Come and paying full boat for one of the very first Minis. Next time I saw him he’d sold his Mini and was eagerly awaiting a Cooper S.
So we’ll see…