2014 Fiat 500L
Fiat is best known for its small cars.
Not just in the U.S, where the diminutive Fiat 500, the 500 Abarth, and larger 500L are its only offerings, but in its home markets in Europe, too. Large Fiats have rarely persisted--poor sales and uncompetitive products have often pushed them to the sidelines.
Yet larger cars are exactly where Fiat wants to go, in the U.S. at least.
Speaking to Wards Auto at the Chicago Auto Show, Fiat North American brand chief Tim Kuniskis says the brand will add at least six more models by 2015.
“Got to have something for everybody,” he said at the show, "We have three cars now, and more vehicles are coming."
Larger cars in the works
Part of that decision is motivated by Fiat's decision to field stand-alone dealerships, rather than sell its products through partner Chrysler's dealers.
The Italian carmaker has 200 U.S. dealers at the moment, but the 500 doesn't really fill them. "[The 500] is not enough product for our showrooms" he explained.
"We need more cars and bigger cars."
That suggests Fiat wants to do something it's never successfully managed in Europe--build a larger car that actually sells.
Oddly, it might be capable of more success doing so in the U.S, despite the brand's relatively small presence. The U.S. simply likes bigger cars.
Fiat's reputation is built on cars primarily designed for the chaotic, narrow streets of its native Italy. Cars like the 500, Panda and Punto all feel at home there, as did historical models like the 600, 850 and 127.
Even its sports cars, from the X1/9 to the Punto-based Barchetta of the 1990s, have always been relatively compact.
The company has sold bigger cars in the past and its commercial vehicle arm is well-respected, but with a few notable exceptions, its larger cars have sold poorly and rarely been competitive. Most of Fiat's larger vehicle sales have been replaced by its other brands, Lancia and Alfa Romeo.
Huge cars are still out of the question, even in the U.S.
2012 Fiat 500C Cabrio, Vanderbilt Mansion, Hyde Park, NY
"Buyers have been asking for bigger cars, saying they love the (500) when they see it, but wish it was just a bit larger. We just won't get too big. Fiat will never (market) a really big car, never a pickup or big SUV" says Kuniskis.
Chrysler already covers those bases with some of its other brands, so there'd be little point offering a Fiat SUV. But a larger sedan could be possible.
Kuniskis hasn't offered sales estimaes for 2013, but says he'll be happy to beat 2012's figure of 44,000 cars. He notes that Fiat has got to that number in two years, when it took Kia five years and MINI seven years (boosted by the larger Countryman) to hit similar annual sales.
He says 88 percent of buyers trading to Fiat 500s are doing so from larger car classes. They like the style enough to downsize--but it could imply a market for a characterful--but larger--car.
Fiat already sells a C-segment vehicle in Europe, the Bravo. This platform has been used by Alfa Romeo for its Giulietta, and subsequently by Dodge for the new Dart. But would Fiat take Dodge head on, or spin the car off in a different direction, such as a hatchback to the Dart's sedan? Or would it go bigger still?
Would you buy a larger Fiat, or should the company stick to what it does best? Leave your thoughts below.