Fiat 500 Marketing Mess: Chrysler Looks To Fix, Sales Actually Look Pretty Good

Launching a new model can be an expensive and difficult proposition. Launching a new brand? Even more so. The Fiat-Chrysler partnership has brought us the Fiat 500, which has been a huge hit around the globe. The retro compact could be finding a niche here in the United States as a MINI alternative.

Who doesn’t genuinely like the 500? We bet most people couldn’t say that. What is questionable though is the strategy for the 500 in sales and marketing. Instead of being sold through Chrysler’s huge dealer network, 130 Fiat “studio” dealers have been setup to sell the 500 exclusively – at a price of $1 million a pop. These have just the 500 to sell until Alfa Romeo models arrive.

Thanks to recent delays, Alfa Romeos won’t be hitting these dealers in full force until 2014. Despite us scratching our heads about the relaunch of the Fiat brand with just one new model, the product itself is very good. We’ve seen the 500 around town quite a bit, and by our own measures think it is doing quite well for itself.

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According to AdAge, Fiat-Chrysler doesn’t agree. The Fiat 500 sold 3,106 cars in August. By any measure that is impressive for a recently-launched small car with only 130 dealerships and a horrific marketing strategy. MINI, which is a well-established brand in the U.S, sold a nearly exact figure of 3,109 units. And that is with a plethora of model that include the standard MINI, MINI convertible, Cooper S performance model, Countryman, and Clubman.

Year-to-date, the 500 has sold 11,088 units, well off MINI’s tally. However, with any new car, there is a ramp up. The question is how well is it doing now, after dealers are fully-stocked and there is some awareness about the car.

As we said, 3,106 500s is nothing to turn your nose up at. Throw in the mangled, half-hearted advertising effort that resulted in the Jennifer Lopez “Papi” single music video/Fiat 500 advertisement and it looks even better. Oliver Francois’ protest that the is really a trailer for the single is one the most baffling explanations we’ve heard. What is it doing running at all then, and especially non-stop during football as some have said?

The ad looks to pigeonhole the car as a vehicle for women, and we aren’t sure that is a good idea either. Celebrity appearances with the car, something AdAge described as part of Fiat’s plan, aren’t a bad thing though. They do help to build awareness and lend some cool factor to the 500, which it needs at this stage.

Regardless, Fiat is looking to sort out the whole mess by getting a new advertising account. When things are running on all-cylinders, expectations are for the 500 to sell around 50,000-60,000 units per year.