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Amidst Problems, Fiat Seeks To Increase Exports To America

By Blake Z. Rong | July 03, 2012
Should Fiat boost its exports to America? That's what its executives are asking themselves right now, as sales slip around the world and targets are falling short. Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne said that there's a factory about 80 miles south of Rome that's ready to build cars that can be brought over to America, with US regulations already in place. It already assembles the Alfa Romeo Giulietta platform from which the 2013 Dodge Dart comes from. Fiat's five plants are going to be working extra hard to build cars for America, including a future Jeep and the Maserati sports car divulged yesterday. He didn't say what car it would be, however. Whatever it was, it'd boost volume in Fiat dealers, which can only go so far selling one celebrity-endorsed cupcake on wheels. Currently, Fiat 500 models sold here are built in Mexico, and while the three versions (Sport, Pop, and Lounge, or something) are languishing, demand for the Fiat 500' Abarth is unsurprisingly outpacing supply. "I have yet to make any money even though I had to sink almost $1 million to build a new showroom," said a dealer who wished to remain anonymous. "They keep promising more product but I have yet to see anything. They like to say things are going well but it's really a mess with this brand." The goal was to sell 50,000 Fiat 500 models a year, or about 4100 per month; Fiat has sold 20,706 so far, with a slow start in January. Marchionne acknowledges that sales haven't met targets even in the slightest, but he blames the dealer networks: "I'm angry about it because I think that what we did is that we launched that car a year or two early," he said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. "We should have launched in 2012 because the dealer network wasn't ready when I launched." So, the good news for dealers is that this undisclosed car will boost volume at Fiat dealerships. And Marchionne plans to bring the 500L, a Fiat 500 that's undergone a Super Size Me diet, sometime early next year. (That one will be built in Serbia, a country less known for its bruschetta and more known for its sobering conflicts.) The big enticing thing for dealers, an automotive "Hang In There!" poster, will be bringing the flashy Alfa Romeo brand over here to be sold alongside Fiats. Alfa Romeo's first car will be the slinky, sexy, mid-engined 4C sports car. However, that comes with the announcement that Alfa Romeo won't arrive until 2013, delayed by another year. This is before mentioning the annual JD Power report of Fiat's quality, tying in last place in 2012—against Smart, a car that even fewer Americans are buying. At this point, it just seems cruel. But if dealers get their wish of more brands and more cars to sell, the payoff could be stunning even amidst a whole host of soul-crushing problems. Hey, isn't that like owning an Italian car in the first place? Source: Wall Street Journal
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