NEW YORK – Fiat’s U.S. chief, Jason Stoicevich, says the brand soon will hit its sweet spot in terms of national dealer numbers, and says the Fiat 500e battery-electric vehicle will be on sale in Oregon this summer.
“We’re pretty much there,” Stoicevich says of a dealer buildup currently numbering 220 store fronts and peaking at an anticipated 225 spots within months.
“There will always be a market we miss,” he adds, “but holistically speaking it will be the right balance. Never say never though.”
Roughly 90% of Fiat dealers are located in metropolitan areas, fitting for a brand with cars high on style and short on dimensions. A good number of those stores are in California, Fiat’s biggest market in the U.S. making up 30% of sales.
Getting brick-and-mortar laid is key to Fiat’s fortunes in the U.S., where it re-launched in 2011 with the 3-door 500 but stumbled out of the gate by missing early sales goals. Last year, with the addition of the 500L 4-door and performance-oriented Abarth and 500 turbo, the brand basically matched 2012 sales with 43,236 deliveries, according to WardsAuto data.
“We’ll beat those numbers by a good clip this year,” Stoicevich predicts.
The brand’s first-quarter sales were up 18.9% to 11,425 units, compared with the Jan.-March period of 2013 when 9,612 were delivered.
February Ad Campaign Corrected Initial Stumble
A new advertising campaign featuring rapper and actor Sean “P. Diddy” Combs appears to have given the brand a boost. Launched in February, the campaign featured a television spot played heavily during the NCAA “March Madness” basketball tournament and traffic to Fiat’s website quadrupled, Stoicevich says. Traffic remains twice that of previous levels.
Fiat marketing will transition somewhat next month, he adds, but expect the same edginess it has delivered in previous spots with actors Charlie Sheen and Jennifer Lopez.
“It is non-traditional and we will continue to be non-traditional,” he says.
A 6-speed automatic transmission coming in the third quarter to the Abarth line and Fiat turbo also are central to the brand’s near-term fortunes. Automatic gearboxes account for upwards of 70% of sales in the segment.
“We’ve done well with the Abarth, we get a younger demographic, but a lot of them just don’t know how to drive a stick,” he says.
Significant interior upgrades are another addition to ’15 models. The cars principally will discard the classic 500 analogue speed meters for a digital variety incorporating more information.
Stoicevich reports “absolutely fantastic” demand for the 500e BEV in California. “We’re just keeping up with demand,” he says.
Availability only may get tighter, as the car will launch this summer in Oregon. Portland is one of the nation’s hottest EV markets with its robust charging infrastructure. Stoicevich says other ZEV states are being eyed for 500e deployment but does not make an official announcement.