Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Huh? The Chrysler 500? Whatzat?

When I heard that Fiat was going to purchase Chrysler, I was a little confused. What did the Italian automaker hope to gain from buying the weakest of the three domestic car companies? The best that I could come up with was that it would give Fiat a dealer network and some assembly capacity on this side of the Atlantic. I'm still not completely certain.

Regardless, Chrysler/Fiat's future product plans have been announced, and the only Fiat badged models apparent are the tiny 500 (seen above), and a "large commercial van" - probably Fiat's approximate equivalent to the Dodge Sprinter (now back to being a Mercedes Sprinter, thus a competitor), the Ducato.

All other Fiat-sourced models will be Chryslers, Dodges, or Jeeps, probably completely unlike their Italian forebears in style or form.

That leaves the 500, which will be built in Mexico (instead of Poland, as European 500's are), but may be badged as a Chrysler when it goes on sale either this year or next.

Here's where they lose me. There's no Chrysler tie-in for this vehicle. It doesn't look like any current Chrysler in any way, and Chrysler doesn't have a model like this in its heritage. Chrysler isn't known for small cars, unless you count the couple of years that the Canadian-market Neon was branded as a Chrysler. They probably hope that you've forgotten about that anyway.

Frankly, the majority of the kind of buyer that would be interested in what is effectively going to be a premium subcompact along the lines of a Mini are savvy enough to realize that this is a Fiat - and probably young enough to be blissfully unaware of just how bad Fiat's products were the last time they were sold here.

Not only that, but if you're expecting customers to fork out extra for a badge, wouldn't you think that the "Fiat" brand would carry more intrigue and potential cachet than "Chrysler"?

Maybe this is why I repair and write about cars instead of selling them...

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