Sunday, March 04, 2012

Fix It Again Tony

Fancy Fiat 500

Found In A Trashcan
Fix It Another Time
Failure in Italian Automotive Technology
And a whole lot more I'm sure.

Fiat stands for Fabrica Italiana Automobili Torino (Italian Car Factory of Turin). But to too many baby boomers (of which I am a member), Fiat became the punchline for bad Italian-made automobiles. Fiat actually started manufacturing cars in the U.S. in 1908, but it was the two decade period spanning the 1970s and 1980s that destroyed Fiat in America. Many owners during that period complained about rust, inconsistent build quality (very little good going from bad to worse) and odd design. Many owners loved to drive their Fiats, but hated the fact that after the new wore off (and it did rather quickly), the Fiats became garage queens. Fiat quality and reputation because so tarnished in the U.S. that Fiat left the U.S. market in 1983.

Fiat stayed primarily in Europe, building cars for that market but loosing market share until they were a bit over 5% of the European market in 2004. In that year Sergio Marchionne took over as CEO of Fiat and began a turn-around of the company. By 2006 Fiat had returned to profitability. By 2009 Fiat's European market share had rebounded back to 9%, the same year Fiat entered into a strategic alliance with ailing and bankrupt Chrysler, another tarnished automotive maker. Marchionne became Chrysler's CEO. By 2011 Chrysler had returned to profitability and repaid all government bailout loans. As 2012 opens both Chrysler and Fiat are healthy and competitive.

The Fiat of 2012 is a far cry from the Fiat of 30 years ago. Fiat (and Chrysler) have survived near-death experiences to come through and produce competitive high-quality cars. The Fiat 500 won European Car of the Year in 2008. At least in Europe Fiat is considered a storied brand; over the past 40 years Fiat Group has won European Car of the Year twelve times, more than any other manufacturer.

As my wife and I look at the 2012 Fiats we have all of this history rattling around in the back of our minds. That's why all the visits to the Fiat dealership. And the Fiat salesmen seem to silently acknowledge this, as they are the least pushy and the most helpful we've come across so far. The only sales group that is as good is the Ford dealership.

Our purchase of a Fiat isn't a done deal by any means. But I am pleasantly surprised by what I find in the 500C every time I go to the Fiat dealership. A test drive or two will tell the tale, but until then, they've won back two very skeptical car buyers: us.

Yellow Fiat 500

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