Whatever Happened to Fiat?

Fiat is a name that has popped up in the United States auto industry more than once. They sold vehicles here until 1983 when they shut down. But, you could be forgiven for thinking that the story ended there. The truth is that Fiat came back to the United States. However, analysts are starting to wonder for how much longer. Weak sales and quality issues are hurting the manufacturer just as they did before. 

The Beginning 

Press Release Photo of a Fiat 500X
Press Release Photo of a Fiat 500X | FCA

Fiat began in Turin, Italy, in 1899. Quickly thereafter, it began producing and selling cars in the United States as well. They even had a factory in Poughkeepsie, NY. The small vehicles they offered were popular in the big city environment where ease of mobility is vital. Eventually, low sales a soiled reputation for questionable quality would lead to Fiat shuttering in the United States.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

Fiat would return in 2010 as a result of a merger with Chrysler. The merger provided Fiat with a dealer network in the United States again. So, it quickly began offering the Fiat 500. It is a small economical, premium package vehicle, much in the same vein as the Mini offerings, which had returned to the United States less than 10 years prior. The 500 would prove to be popular initially. 

More Models

2020 Fiat 124 Spyder Abarth at sunrise
2020 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth Scorpion Sting Appearance Group

Other models would be offered over the first few years, including a convertible aimed at capturing sales from people longing for the nostalgia of the old Fiat Spyder. Ironically, the new version, however, would not be a Fiat specific model as it was based on a Mazda Miata platform. Fiat had negotiated with Mazda to make the Miata more distinctive by changing some of the mechanicals and a few body panels and lighting pods. 

Coming Out An Economic Collapse

It seemed that at the time of Fiat’s return, that the economy was starting to improve in the United States. The financial crisis of 2008 was behind, and people were beginning to loosen their wallets again, although cautiously. Fiat banked on their fun little car lineup to attract those buyers that were ready to part with their money. 

The first few years of Fiat sales in the United States were encouraging. Sales would total just short of 50,000 units per year by 2014. However, while the economic market was coming back, the auto industry as a whole was changing quickly from small cars to larger crossovers, SUVs, and pickups. Fiat would introduce the Fiat 500X to try and fill the crossover market. But, it’s still a small vehicle. To this day, Fiat does not have larger crossovers, SUVs, or pickups, and resultantly, Fiat sales have not returned to that peak from 2014.

The Five Year Plan

In the Summer of 2018, then CEO of Fiat, Sergio Marchionne announced that the Fiat lineup would be refreshed and include electric offerings. But that was it. There was no mention of additional segments to help the brand. Since then, Fiat and Peugeot have merged and are looking at the financials. So, that leaves Fiat in the United States on unsteady ground.

A 2019 FIAT 124 Spider driving down a desserted highway.
2019 Fiat 124 Spider Classica | FIAT

Questionable Future

Lagging sales and little hope for a new product addition in the near future to its portfolio of offerings leads many to believe that a future for Fiat is questionable. The lack of sales also puts Fiat in a dangerous place. Fewer Fiats are on the road means top-of-mind consciousness is also not as pronounced as it could be for the consumer. Indeed, the reason this article has been written is that the author was approached by someone asking, “What happened to Fiat? Are they even still around?”