Fiat's return to U.S. means 4 dealerships for Houston
The Fiat is returning to North America after a 27-year absence, with at least four dealerships in the Houston area slated to offer the iconic Italian cars known for their emphasis on stylish design.
The 2012 models of the Fiat 500, or Cinquecento, will begin arriving for sale in January, said Chrysler Group spokesman Ralph Kisiel. Orders could be taken as early as December, he said.
The 4-cylinder hatchback was unveiled Wednesday at the Los Angeles International Auto Show.
The Fiat 500 is being promoted for its design, fuel-efficiency and options for customization. Buyers can choose from three models, with 14 exterior colors and as many seat color and material combinations. The vehicle arrives with a suggested retail price starting at $15,500.
"They're pretty neat little cars," said Lincoln Stahl, Internet sales director at Clear Lake Dodge Chrysler Jeep, 15711 Gulf Freeway in Webster, one of the local dealerships to carry the 500. "They're sporty. They're Italian cars, so they're sporty."
Stahl said Clear Lake Dodge, recently acquired by Ken Garff Automotive Group of Salt Lake City, is building a new showroom just for the Fiats. He said he does not expect them to cut into sales of Ram trucks, Jeeps or others in the existing lineup.
"A Dodge Challenger buyer is not going to want a Fiat — and vice-versa," Stahl said. However, he added, if customers are happy they may return later for other vehicles or refer friends or relatives.
Spring Chrysler Dodge Jeep also will sell Fiats, first in a temporary building on site at 21027 North Freeway, then in a separate "sales boutique" in The Woodlands by March 1.
"It's a great brand," Alfred Flores said, explaining why he and co-owner Bruce Glascock wanted to offer Fiats. "And the segment for small cars is going to be here."
Flores said he expects to have a car on site next month that customers can see and use as an example for ordering.
And Steven Wolf, general manager at Helfman Dodge Chrysler Jeep, 7720 Katy Freeway, said he has already had eight or nine people express interest in the vehicle.
He said Helfman Fiat will include a five- to seven-car showroom at the existing dealership.
Clear Lake, Spring and Helfman are among 130 new Fiat dealerships nationwide announced Wednesday. Kisiel said Chrysler expects to have 165 dealerships in place by year's end.
Kisiel said the company, which is partly owned by Fiat, identified 119 U.S. markets with high numbers of small-car registrations and potential for sales growth in the small-car market. Most of the locations are in urban areas, where traffic is an issue.
Chrysler then took applications from potential dealers in those markets and awarded the Fiat to qualifying businesses. All will be required, eventually, to have separate buildings and separate sales staff for the Fiats.
Kisiel said some dealerships are building new or expanding existing space, while others are taking over buildings vacated when dealerships went out of business during the recession.
The Fiat 500 is manufactured at a Chrysler plant in Toluca, Mexico, with a 1.4-liter engine built in Dundee, Mich.
Kisiel said the 500 will be followed by more Fiat models, including a convertible that should be on sale within the first half of 2011.
The other Houston-area Fiat dealership announced Wednesday was identified by Chrysler Group as Fiat of Sugar Land, owned by Group 1 Automotive. A Group 1 spokesman said that, pending some final paperwork, it could not comment on where the dealership will be.
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