Fiat May Consider Non-Chrysler Dealers to Sell the New 500 Minicar

Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne says some non-Chrysler dealerships may be given franchises to sell Fiat vehicles in the U.S.

Speaking at Chrysler’s Jefferson North assembly plant in Detroit, Michigan last week Marchionne said, “I think there’s going to be a large part of the distribution that will be part of the Chrysler environment. There may be others that will not.”

Along with reintroducing the flagship Fiat brand to a U.S. audience, the Italian automaker also plans to –re-launch its Alfa Romeo brand in the U.S. as early as 2012. Marchionne said that some Fiat franchises could also get an Alfa Romeo franchise.

Marchionne also told reporters that the company is on schedule to launch its Fiat 500 small car in the U.S. by year’s end. He said that Chrysler has already begun turning out pre-production units at its factory in Toluca, Mexico. The 500 will be launched in the U.S. as a two-door hatchback, and Fiat plans to offer three other variants: a convertible, a four-door hatchback and the sporty Abarth model.

Chrysler began contacting dealers in 125 markets across 41 states in July to determine their level of interest in being considered for a new Fiat franchise. Interested dealers will be invited to a briefing on the franchising process at Chrysler’s headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan later this month. Chrysler will take proposals from dealers who are still interested after the briefing and announce which dealerships it has chosen to grant franchises to in September.

Marchionne said that Fiat will not share showroom space with Chrysler’s other brands. Instead, Fiat will be a standalone franchise – not just another model under the Chrysler umbrella. To emphasize the point, Marchionne said, “The potential of Fiat is unique. There is nothing Jeepish about the 500. It’s an Italian car, and a Jeep is a Jeep.”

Chrysler expects the new Fiat 500 to be popular among urban motorists and is focusing primarily on metropolitan dealerships as potential Fiat franchisees.

Chrysler said it will give special consideration to dealers who have the means and desire to invest in a dedicated Fiat showroom and who score will on the company’s new Dealer Standards program.

While some Chrysler Group dealers have express great interest in acquiring a Fiat franchise, other are lukewarm to the idea.

Lithia Motors Incorporated CEO Sid DeBoer said his 23 standalone Chrysler dealerships account for 29% of his company’s sales and that adding Fiat franchises will not be a priority. DeBoer said, “We’re not in a lot of the markets that they are targeting,” and, therefore, “It’s not going to be a major initiative for us.”

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