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Fiat retools its North American brands

November 22, 2011

Chrysler and Fiat announced their plans for a partnership on January 20, 2009. Chrysler Group LLC was formed later that summer as part of the Italian Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino, known as Fiat. It has since developed its partnership along a number of lines. Here in Indiana, Fiat has invested $843 million in the Kokomo Transmission Plant, symbolized by the addition of its dual-clutch transmission to the Kokomo product line.

The biggest visible change to most Americans, however, is the return of the Fiat line to American markets for the first time since 1983. Fiat branding efforts have not achieved their anticipated success. Jennifer Lopez’s prominent endorsement of Fiat in her “Papi” music video was supplemented by a Fiat 500’s stage presence at the American Music Awards on Monday. Nonetheless, the sales of the Fiat 500 have struggled outside large metropolitan areas such as New York and Los Angeles. From the date of its introduction to the American market this spring through the end of October, Fiat’s 500 sold half as well as BMW’s Mini Cooper – its most similar US competitor.

To raise its competitiveness in North America, yesterday Fiat named Timothy Kuniskis, a Chrysler marketing expert since 1992, to replace Laura Soave as boss of Fiat brand for North America. Soave was seen as the hip, young face needed to replace a decades-old image of unreliability. Her lack of experience turned out to be a critical gap that Kuniskis is to fill. Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne told reporters, “Tim brings broad expertise and leadership in dealer operations and marketing where he has been already working with the team to shape the direction of the Fiat brand.”

Fiat rolled out its sportier Fiat 500 Abarth model at the Los Angeles Auto Show on November 16th. It is supposed to be loyal to famed racing car driver and designer Carlo Abarth’s “small, but wicked” image. The 500 Abarth new advertising campaign (see video below) utilizes Romanian model Catrinel Menghia and a sleek red and black color scheme in an attempt to get more male buyers interested in what has been seen as a female-dominated market.

In addition to the Fiat 500, Fiat is now asking retired Ferrari designer Lorenzo Ramaciotti to take up the project of integrating the Chrysler brand with the Italian Lancia brand. In trying to create a single car for two distinct markets, Fiat risks losing the local flavor customers have come to appreciate. Both brands are trying any avenue as they desperately seek growth in the depressed American and Italian markets.

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