Fiat 500 logs poor sales in China due to lack of brand awareness

Article by Anita Panait, on June 5, 2013

Even a tie-up with Italian luxury-goods maker Gucci failed to boost sales of the Fiat 500 city car in China. Fiat has aimed to establish the Italian minicar as a chic city car in China through the 500 by Gucci special edition, even calling it as "a fashion statement you can drive." But it seems consumers in the country did not get the Italian carmaker’s message, as Fiat only managed to sell less than 600 units of the entire 500 range in China in 2012, according to IHS Automotive.

Likewise, sales of the carmaker’s main mass-market model in China, the locally made Viaggio compact sedan, have been dismal. Fiat had expected to post 20,000 Viaggio sales in 2012, but only managed to sell 11,288. The carmaker also expects to log 100,000 Viaggio sales for this year, but only sold 12,212 from January to April, Morgan Stanley figures show. 

The Viaggio, a rebadged Dodge Dart, is being produced by a 50-50 joint venture between Fiat and Guangzhou Automobile Group -- GAC Fiat Automobiles – at a manufacturing site in the Changsha Economic Zone.

Despite the failure to meet the sales target for the Viaggio, GAC Fiat general manager John Burton is pleased with the progress the Italian brand has made so far. Namrita Chow, senior analyst at IHS Automotive in Shanghai, remarked that the compact segment is the most competitive as 94 locally build models aim to get a chunk of the market.

Chow remarked that the Fiat brand is not as well known in the country as its rivals, noting that Fiat needs increases brand awareness significantly across China. Burton shared the same view, noting that consumers in China have very high appreciation for Italian fashion and things, and Fiat needs to make a stronger effort to link its products to the Italian clothing and lifestyle.

The fate of the 500 by Gucci in China could be a bad omen for French carmakers PSA/Peugeot-Citroen and Renault, which are hoping to gain sales in the country by taking advantage of the consumer penchant for high-end French brands.

Seen as a more athletic version of the Fiat 500, the 500s comes with a look that is more aggressive and fitted with a wide range of standard features. Customers who want a sports car that brings with it a strong personality are sure to love the 500S. Fiat revealed that this newest offering is to be offered as a convertible and a hardtop. New features on the exterior include new side skirts, rear spoiler, privacy glass, and “dark chrome” finish.

The bumper is made more athletic, and this is true for both the front bumper and the one in the rear. Fitted as standard are the alloy 15-inch wheels though a 16-inch version is offered as an option. There are also changes on the interior like the new sports seats which reveal red stitching. The backrests meanwhile had the “500S” logo. In order to match the sport spirit that is displayed with this new model, the interior has been enhanced by finishing it with Matt Silver key components like the dashboard, gear knob, and racing steering wheel.

Other equipment fitted as standard include the manual air conditioning, electric motors, and the Blue & Me system that places radio controls on the vehicle’s steering wheel. Customers can request from Fiat should they want to avail of extra options. As mentioned, this includes the alloy 6-inch wheels. Then there is the spoiler in black as well as a sporty roof design.

A wide range of engines is also being offered to customers. Examples include the 1.2-liter engine capable of 69 hp and the TwinAir engine that allows for 85 hp. There is also the 16v 1.4-liter engine that can offer 100 hp with the Multijet 16v 1.3-liter able to deliver 95 hp. The Fiat 500S is now available for order in Italy. The base model, which is fitted with the 1.2-liter engine, is expected to cost 13,750 EUR. This can go as high as 16,050 EUR for the model having the Multijet engine. Note that these are for the hardtop variants as the convertible version is expected to cost 17,250 euro for 1.2-liter and up to 19,550 EURO for the Multijet model.

Topics: fiat, fiat 500, china, sales

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