Fiat to pull the 500 from North America market
Americans' love for bigger vehicles is sending away another minicar — this time, the Fiat 500.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV is ending production in North America of the subcompact car that led the reintroduction of the Fiat brand into the United States less than a decade ago and its 500e electrified version, spokesman Bryan Zvibleman said in a statement Tuesday.
"As consumer preference continues to shift toward larger vehicles, we're seeing competitors and consumers vacate the small-car segment," Zvibleman said.
The vehicle's elimination from the North American market signals an uncertain future for the brand, said Karl Brauer, an analyst for Cox Automotive.
"It was the core vehicle that represented the brand, that they launched the brand in the U.S. with," Brauer said. "It was a key part of Fiat's brand and image, despite its increasingly falling sales over the past five-plus years."
The vehicles are produced in a plant in Toluca, Mexico, which also makes the Jeep Compass compact SUV. Present inventory of the 2019 models will last into 2020, Zvibleman said. Production of the 500e ended in June. The final manufacturing run of the Fiat 500 will be in November.
U.S. sales of the Fiat 500 were down 25% year-over-year through June, the most recent data the automaker has reported. It also was the Fiat brand's top seller so far this year, though the Fiat 124 Spider roadster sold more vehicles in June.
The roadster along with the Fiat 500X all-wheel-drive compact crossover and the five-passenger Fiat 500L utility vehicle still will be available in North America.
Conversely, the Italian-American automaker in November said it was investing to build the Fiat 500 as its first battery-powered car marketed in Europe as a part of plans to spend $5.7 billion through 2022 on its factories in Italy.
Fiat may have a reliable role as an electric platform for FCA akin to BMW AG's all-electric Mini Cooper SE unveiled in July, Brauer said. The 500e's 84-mile range, however, is not competitive in the current electric market, he said.
"If Fiat wants to remain viable as an automaker, it has to have SUVs," Brauer said. "Either you are going to make this brand viable knowing it'll take some time and money or you're not."
In 2016, FCA announced it would stop selling the compact Dodge Dart and mid-size Chrysler 200 car to focus its efforts on the growing trucks and SUVs segments. Other automakers, including Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co., followed with cuts to sedan offerings.
Poor sales led Fiat to pull from the American market in the early 1990s. After the Italian automaker merged with bankrupt Chrysler Corp., the brand returned stateside in 2011. In its first full year, Fiat sold 43,772 vehicles in the U.S. In 2018, that number dropped to 15,521, a 40% decline year over year.