Chrysler Dealers Gather in Detroit to Consider Fiat, Alfa Sales

Approximately 400 Chrysler Group LLC dealers from all over the U.S. met this week at the Detroit Institute of Arts this week to arm themselves with the information they need to decide whether or not to invest the money necessary to begin selling Fiat and Alpha vehicles.

Chrysler and Fiat S.p.A. united last summer as the ailing Chrysler came out of bankruptcy. The success of the partnership will hinge on the two automakers selling each other’s products, thereby making the most of their individual distribution networks.

Fiat’s strength is in Europe and South America where it has already begun selling Chrysler vehicles. The Italian company hasn’t sold Fiats in the U.S. since 1983, and mainstream sales of its Alpha Romeo brand stopped in 1995. The exclusive Alpha Romeo 8C sports car is still sold here, along with Fiat’s exotic Ferrari and Maserati brands.

The first Fiat to be sold in the U.S. in December will be a North American version of the small Fiat 500. It’s currently being made at the Toluca, Mexico Chrysler plant, which will produce 120,000 A-segmented cars each year. Those vehicles will be divided and sent to North and South America. Plans for the Alpha brand include a mid-size car and a crossover by 2012; after that an SUV and luxury sedan will be released in the U.S.

Alfred Flores is the owner of Spring Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram near Houston, Texas. Prior to Monday’s meeting he said, “Hopefully, I’ll be a Fiat dealer. I’m excited about the franchise. I’ll be there to see what the product is and the requirements and to see the business model.” He said his decision would depend on what the presenters had to say.

As far as what will be required of the dealers: separate Fiat facility and staff, sufficient capital and a marketing plan, and full compliance with Fiat dealer standards. The dealerships current performance will also be reviewed.

Chuck Eddy of Bob and Chuck Eddy Chrysler Dodge Jeep in Austintown, Ohio said, “Until I see the details, I can’t say if I’m interested. I need to know everything about the new start-up and what support there is if we take the step.” He said he was considering only Fiat 500 sales. He said that if other models are added, it would be “icing on the cake for me,” and added, “If I can make it work with one car, then I’m OK if the cavalry doesn’t come.” Memories of his experience with Saturn, of broken promises and the ultimate discontinuation of the brand have left him wary of the new deal.

Presenters at the meeting included the head of Fiat North America Laura Soave and Peter Grady, Chrysler VP of Network Development & Fleet. Dealers from 119 select U.S. cities were given detailed information regarding Fiat’s five-year plan. CEO of Chrysler and Fiat, Sergio Marchionne, was not in attendance.

Chrysler spokesman Ralph Kisiel said he expected around 600 to attend the meeting. Chrysler provided food and ground transportation, but the dealers were expected to pay for travel costs.

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