Fiat: More cars, more features

By Matt DeLorenzo on April 13, 2015 10:07 AM

Fiat is looking to lift its volume with the addition of new features on existing offerings, while expanding the model lineup by two new entries. Jason Stoicevich, head of Fiat in the U.S., said the key is widening the appeal of existing models by adding automatic transmissions and tapping into hot segments like the subcompact crossover SUV market.

While the current lineup of the 500 hatchback and compact-sized 500L 5-door have a lot of emotional appeal, Stoicevich believes the addition of the more conventional crossover SUV-inspired 500X will give the brand's sales a significant boost in volume.

"Today, we are very much the emotional choice, this car [the 500X] changes that a little bit, give us a chance to mature because this car is more sophisticated," Stoicevich said, adding that "the car that comes after this is very sophisticated," referring to the Fiat 124 roadster, which will be built off a platform shared with the new 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata.

He notes that the subcompact crossover SUV market is hot and that the 500X will be in the heart of that segment when deliveries begin in May. "You have the Honda HR-V, the Mazda CX-3, it's going to continue to get hotter and you're seeing a lot of defectors out of the compact car segment" into these new crossovers. "We see a lot of opportunity in this small compact crossover space and it's a huge opportunity." Fiat's positioning is that the car will deliver a little more emotion than the competition. "It's not your everyday driver," he said.

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Automatics to the fore

In addition to those new models, the availability of conventional 6-speed torque converter automatic transmissions is expected to broaden the appeal of the performance-oriented 500 Abarth as well as the 500L. While the Abarth offered only a stick, the more family oriented 500L came with a choice of a 6-speed manual and a dual clutch transmission, which essentially is a manual with an automated clutch. Stoicevich believes that American consumers, not exposed as widely to the technology, were resistant. As a result, a conventional automatic was added to mix and buyers can opt for the manual, dual clutch or full automatic. "We've also done a lot of creature comfort things to the 2015 500L, it's night and day from model year to model year and they will hit the streets pretty quickly," he said.

Even though Stoicevich sees Millennials as a natural market for Fiat products, he says "we will sell cars to anybody." The 500 is proving to be a popular first car for that younger generation and the retro look of the 500 1957 model, which recalls the original 500's launch nearly 50 years ago, has been such a hit that it is being brought back again as a limited run model. "We will do these buzz models, Love that position with this car," he said, noting that it was intended as a one-year only promotion. "This one was so successful we had to bring it back."

Stoicevich sees the addition of the 500X as integral to the evolution of Fiat to a full-line brand. "We have a full showroom, and now we have a chance to separate" among model lines. As a result, there will be some subtle changes in Fiat's approach. "We can have all the fun in the world and continue to do the crazy, risky type things online with social and then have a little different space for the X. But we can't lose our edge," he said. "We've established something very cool here and you don't want to lose that."

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