(Reuters) - Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV expects its yet-to-be launched Fiat 500X crossover sport utility vehicle to be even more popular in North America than its 500 microcar, senior executives said on Wednesday.
Fiat will begin selling the 500X in the second quarter of next year. It is intended to appeal to consumers looking for a larger car than the tiny, retro-styled 500.
“If you look at the 500, the number one reason for rejection is the size of the vehicle. We no longer have that,” Jason Stoicevich, head of Fiat in North America, said in an interview at the Los Angeles Auto Show. “Our expectations would be to outsell (the 500).”
Stoicevich declined to give specific sales targets.
Fiat is launching the 500X in 100 countries, and is relying heavily on strong sales in the United States.
Currently, North America accounts for just 60,000 of Fiat’s 1.6 million in annual vehicle sales -- a figure the brand’s global chief called “marginal.”
“In this case, the North American volumes won’t be marginal,” Fiat head Olivier Francois said of the 500X.
Fiat returned to the U.S. market after a 16-year absence in 2011. The brand needed half the time it took Mini or Kia (000270.KS) to breach the 40,000 sales mark in the United States. However, Fiat 500 sales peaked in 2012 and fell 18 percent last year, while overall volumes for the Fiat brand dipped 1.2 percent in 2013.
Fiat has said that it has a particular opportunity to increase sales in the U.S. Northeast with the 500X because it has all-wheel-drive capabilities. Stoicevich said in September that many consumers who may have wanted to buy a Fiat in these areas held back because of the snowy winters.
Reporting By Nichola Groom; Editing by David Gregorio