Fiat's U.S. dealers anxious for broader product lineup

Fri May 10, 2013 5:20pm EDT
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By Bernie Woodall

DETROIT (Reuters) - A meeting of U.S. Fiat dealers to discuss future products, including the arrival of Alfa Romeo models, has twice been postponed and no new date has been set, several Fiat dealers said this week.

Some of the 204 U.S. Fiat dealers are struggling to turn a profit selling several versions of the Fiat 500 subcompact and some dealers said they anxiously await more details from Chrysler and its Italian parent, Fiat SpA FIA.MI, on plans to expand products beyond what has been already announced.

Fiat returned to the U.S. market in March 2011 with 40 dealers after a 16-year absence selling a single product, the two-door Fiat 500, largely known outside North America as the Cinquecento.

The Italian carmaker, led by hard-charging Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne, took over management of Chrysler after the No. 3 U.S. automaker's 2009 bankruptcy, partly on the promise it would make the company less reliant on gas-guzzling pickup trucks and SUVs.

The Fiat brand's return to the United States was not part of the bankruptcy deal. Fiat the corporate parent owns 61.5 percent of Chrysler and Marchionne hopes to buy the remaining shares and merge the two companies.

Gary Brown is the new chairman of the Chrysler Dealer Council. He owns a Fiat dealership on Long Island in New York, which sits 60 feet from his primary store, which sells the higher volume Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and Ram Truck brands.

Brown says he has full faith that Marchionne and his executives will make Fiat dealers successful in the long run, but he is among those having a hard time selling only one style of car.

"I'm struggling to break even," said Brown. "With the one car in a small (volume) segment, it's a tough go right now."   Continued...

A Fiat logo is seen on a car during a press preview at the 2013 New York International Auto Show in New York, March 28, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Segar