The Detroit News reported yesterday that 400 Chrysler dealers flew into Detroit to hear a pitch from Fiat in the hopes that they could convince 200 dealers in 119 select cities around the country to open a Fiat store.Today they’ll be attending the “Fiat Experience” at the Detroit Institute of Art, and I would expect that the cappuccino and gelato will flow.
By 2012, Fiat will be introducing the built-in-Mexico Fiat 500 here, and will also begin offering the Fiat-owned Alfa Romeo brand, which will include a midsize sedan and eventually a crossover.
People in Oklahoma and Idaho are probably not going to be standing in line for trendy, Eurostyle microcars like the 500. When MINI launched, the dealers were concentrated on the coasts, so we can expect the New England region to be several of the 119 cities that will be the beneficiary of a Ye Olde Fiat Shoppe.
So who would be in contention? The deal — at first, anyway — is that potential Fiat dealers would have a separate sales force, and some kind of separate “display area,” and that the dealers would eventually transition into building a stand-alone store, solely for the Fiat brand.
Despite all the malarkey about selecting dealers with high customer satisfaction scores, corporate entities will almost certainly select the dealers in the region who know how to move iron. The path to opening a stand-alone shop would certainly be something that only a high-volume, deeply pocketed dealer could manage.
It has to be an intriguing prospect for a Chrysler dealer, who has stood beside the road and watched as his European, Japanese, and even American counterparts have bypassed him with all-new, desirable products. What does he have that competes with a product like the new Ford Fiesta, for example? At the moment, bupkis. Chrysler itself only offers the 300, Sebring and Town & Country. Dodge dealers don’t fare much better. But with a small, sexy, fuel efficient car in the quiver, it might breathe life into a stagnating brand while the parent company figures out what’s it’s going to sell in the coming years.
Herb Chambers is the biggest dealer group in the area, and has Chrysler brands in Millbury and Danvers, Massachusetts. Millbury certainly doesn’t seem like Fiat Country, but Danvers is just up the road from MINI of Peabody. Chambers runs the MINI store in downtown Boston, but the chance to whip MINI of Peabody on the North Shore might be too great an opportunity to pass up.
Quirk also operates a Chrysler/Dodge facility in Quincy, but there’s probably going to be some exclusivity within 50 miles, at least at first. Within a hundred miles of MetroWest, there’s only a small handful of stores with the kind of horsepower a parent company is going to be looking for. It wouldn’t surprise me to see one or two stores in the Boston area, and not see another one until you’ve traveled 150 miles west to Albany.