The World’s Ugliest Car Was Never Sold in the U.S.
Americans tend to shy away from ugly cars – look at the Pontiac Aztek. However, that isn’t the biggest reason why Fiat shied away from bringing the Multipla to the U.S. Built from 1998 to 2010, the Multipla was extremely practical, with a large interior that crammed room for six people into a car the size of a Mini Cooper Countryman. As a people-mover, it was rewarding to drive, just as long as you didn’t get out and look at it.
So, what happened to the Fiat Multipla? Was it really that bad? If not, why didn’t Fiat bring it to the U.S.?
A brief history of the Fiat Multipla
Fiat first produced the Multipla in 1956 as a four-door MPV based on the Fiat 600. It had room for six people yet was less than 12 feet long. The driver and front passenger sat over the front wheels with the engine in the back, just like the original VW Microbus. In all, Fiat produced almost five million Multipla MPVs in different variants, including some licensed under different names in Spain, Germany, former Yugoslavia, and South America before production ended in 1967.
When Fiat decided to produce a new MPV model, known as the Type 186, it revived the Multipla name. Based on the popular Fiat Brava compact, production started in 1998. In the spirit of the original 600 Multipla, the new Type 186 featured six-passenger seating, only it featured three across seating instead of the original MPV’s three rows of two seats.
While people were impressed by the practicality and driving dynamics of the new Multipla, many were turned off by its odd styling. By the mid-2000s, Fiat enjoyed something of a renaissance with the new Fiat 500, Fiat Panda, and Fiat 124 Spider. However, the Multipla never caught on. In 2004, Fiat attempted a face transplant on the Multipla, grafting a more normal front end on it, but it was to no avail.
Where the Fiat Multipla was sold
The Fiat Multipla was sold in Europe, Asia, and South America, according to HotCars. It also sold in the Chinese market from 2008 to 2013 under license as the Zotye M300 Langyue. Zotye even marketed an all-electric version of the M300, which sold 200 units.
There are two reasons why the Fiat Multipla never sold in the U.S. First, Fiat left the U.S. market in 1983 and didn’t return until 2011, one year after it stopped producing the MPV. Additionally, even if the Multipla was still in production, it would not have met U.S. safety requirements. Regardless, it probably wouldn’t have sold well in the U.S. anyway. The combination of its looks and the U.S. consumer’s preference for larger SUVs over small cars and minivans would have made the Multipla a difficult proposition for Fiat dealers.
The U.S. eventually got the Multipla’s successor
In 2012, Fiat replaced the Multipla with the 500L. Based on a variant of the FCA Small Wide platform, Fiat styled it to look like a super-sized Fiat 500. It used Fiat’s Multiair variable valve timing engine technology and featured a cab-forward design, prioritizing passenger and cargo volume. Like the Multipla, the 500L featured a high roof, a tall greenhouse, and a reconfigurable interior system.
Fiat immediately sent the 500L to the U.S., but it never really caught on. Car and Driver summed up its impressions by saying it was “Awkward to drive, awkward to look at, the 500L gets no love from us.” Buyers agreed. Most took one look at the 500L and headed off to buy a Honda Fit, Kia Soul, Mazda CX-3, or Mini Countryman.
Still, while the 500L didn’t sell well as a new car, it does make an interesting option in the used car market. Depreciation was not kind to it, which makes it cheaper than its competitors today. Depending on the year and mileage, it’s not uncommon to find one for 40 to 60% less than its original list price.