By Richard Truesdell
On 4 July 1957, the original Fiat 500 was introduced in Italy to an eager public. Now, on Independence Day 2011, Fiat is hoping for lightning to strike twice: The automaker launches its first national ad campaign for the New Fiat 500 with a four-page ad wrapped around today's issue of USA Today (the 1 July 2011 Weekend Edition, as the newspaper is not published on weekends or certain national holidays, including the Fourth of July).
It's no secret that Fiat's U.S. launch has been hampered by the fact that only 70 of the expected 130 Fiat Studio showrooms are open. A Fiat spokesman has said the first 130 dealerships would be open by the end of this year, giving Fiat coverage in all major metro markets.
Despite pent-up demand for the modern update of the iconic "Cinquecento," interest hasn't translated into actual sales. Between March when sales began through the end of May, Fiat delivered only 3,141 of the 500s nationwide.
Fiat is clearly taking a carefully measured go-slow approach before launching a national advertising campaign to support the 500's launch. The company has been selective in its appointment of dealers; existing Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram dealers must apply for a Fiat franchise and agree to build dedicated retail showrooms--called studios--in support of the brand.
While there has been no official confirmation to date of any nationwide television ad campaign, one is expected. Fiat is supplying its dealers with pre-produced TV commercials that can be customized for local markets.
When the Fiat 500 was launched, 2011 sales projections were in the 50,000 range. Fiat will need to move more than 40,000 additional cars before the end of the year to reach that figure.
Helping the cause is Fiat's 500C convertible, outfitted with a folding cloth top that mimics the essence of the sunroof in the original Cinquecento. One was just delivered to the Automotive Traveler test fleet today.