Chrysler Group LLC says it has hosted 400 Chrysler Group dealers to outline the requirements to becoming a Fiat dealer in the United States. The automaker is bringing the Fiat 500 subcompact to the U.S. market later this year.
Chrysler says the dealers met with the team responsible for establishing a Fiat retail network by the end of this year. The company wants Fiat dealerships in about 165 locations, in metropolitan areas.
Per the automaker, dealers were given parameters for submitting a competitive proposal for a Fiat franchise. Proposals must be submitted by Sept. 22, with Chrysler Group planning to name Fiat dealers in the fourth quarter.
"The Fiat brand offers our dealers the opportunity to be part of a unique experience," said Laura Soave, head of Fiat Brand North America. "Our dealers will be able to interact with a group of individuals that are not part of their current customer base." In her prepared statement, she said the Fiat intenders are interested in Italian automotive design.
A spokesperson for the automaker says the company invited the dealers from 119 regions in 38 states and that final decisions will be based on sales performance, the plans they have to create separate branded spaces for Fiat, "and how comprehensive their plan is to market the car. We are also going to be looking at compliance with dealership standards in their existing operations, and we will make sure they are properly capitalized."
"What we did was to identify markets with high concentrations of small-car registrations," he says -- adding that California was the biggest market, with 14 regions identified as optimal Fiat markets because they are already heavily represented by people who buy small cars.
"We also see the Northeast and Florida; Florida has 15 market areas we identified for Fiat." In the Midwest, he said, Illinois is a strong candidate, principally because of the Chicago metropolitan area. Ohio has six markets in places like Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, he says.
The spokesperson said that while the company can't talk specifics about marketing programs and the extent to which dealers will carry the advertising load for local markets, "the overriding sentiment of the dealers we interviewed on breaks during the meeting was that if they came unsure about the program for the Fiat 500, they now got the big picture, the product, and the plan. They said it all made sense for them."
With plans to launch the car by year-end, dealers who are chosen will have less than four months to develop facilities to get the car and brand on the floor. The spokesperson says that is enough time to do the job. "At this point we are looking for separate showrooms only; down the road as we roll out the full line of Fiat vehicles, we will be looking for separate facilities for the brand. Right now, a lot of dealers marketing all four brands have a used car building already in use that could easily be converted to a separate showroom for Fiat."