Pity the poor Fiat brand. The Italian marque’s return to the North American market was like a musket left out in the rain: The priming pan went up in a flash but the main powder charge failed to ignite.
Once the recession-battered public got its fill of the tiny, retro Cinquecento in 2011 and 2012, it was nowhere but down for the brand, despite Fiat Chrysler’s attempt to scratch buyers’ growing crossover itch with the admittedly attractive Jeep Renegade-based 500X. It doesn’t look like the 124 Spider’s gonna do the trick, either. A niche model from a niche brand with cratering sales and a massive backlog of unsold vehicles? That’s no Roman holiday.
So it came as no surprise when rumors cropped up of the brand’s looming North American demise at the hands of outgoing CEO Sergio Marchionne. Will you miss it?
In its present form, perhaps not. Not for this writer, anyway, though I’ll admit to only running in terror when a 500L drives by (a rare circumstance, for reasons stated above). The 500 was impossible to drive without cocking my head to the right at an unpleasant angle, and I’ve never been behind the wheel of the Spider (which at least boasts unlimited headroom for its occupants some of the time). We’ve had a few good things to say about the stillborn 500X.
Still, you don’t hear teenage boys lusting over an Abarth anything.
If the rumor becomes official on Friday, it spells the end of a longstanding headache for FCA dealers. In 2013, Fiat franchisees were crying out for new product. By 2016, they were begging for salvation. FCA responded by allowing standalone stores to shack up with neighboring Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram dealers, then poured on the cash for those left unwed. Trims got the axe, then prices. Standard turbocharged power in the 500 was the last gambit for the struggling brand.
There seems to be no way of getting buyers interested in Fiat, making its demise an inevitability. And it’s hard to miss what’s barely there. What does spark regret, however, is promise left unfulfilled — the departure of a quirky foreign brand that could have been so much more, had its parents’ interests not lay elsewhere.
In a past post, I laid out a couple of possible product solutions, though my dream of a low-cost purveyor of funky rear-drive sedans and coupes was a pipe dream in today’s market.
So, will there be a single tear shed if Marchionne chops the brand tomorrow?
[Image: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]