SAN DIEGO--In Laura Soave's view, the Fiat 500 appeals to the two opposite poles that drive automotive purchase decisions: the brain and the heart.
With its 38 mpg EPA highway rating and a price starting at $15,995, including delivery, the 500 will play to customers who want sensible, economical, and green transportation. And, with its Italian heritage and brio, the 500 will tug at the heartstrings.
"We can play the best of both worlds with a balance of great style and design at a great price," said Soave, Fiat's North American brand chief, at the 500 media launch here.
Soave believes the 500's high mpg, near the top of the nonhybrid small-car standings, will lure customers who might also consider such vehicles as the Toyota Yaris, rated at 36 mpg highway. For those customers who buy cars based on emotional factors, the Mini Cooper is the target, Soave says.
"The Yaris gets you from point A to point B as long as you want a beige or gray interior," Soave said. "We're at a $4,000 value vs. the Mini."
Edmunds.com lists a base Mini Cooper at $20,100 and a base Yaris at $13,615. Both prices include destination
No national ads
Without its full dealer network on board or a big marketing budget, Fiat initially will rely on Internet and event marketing to spread the word on the 500.
"TV is an expensive proposition," Soave says.
The campaign slogan is "Life is best when driven." Fiat sees a trend toward downsizing in the culture and forecasts a doubling of the small-car market by 2013. Thus another marketing slogan: "It's not how big your car is. It's how big your life is."
Soave believes the 500 will lure an array of customers, including youngsters looking to enhance their green credentials and trendsetters seeking a style statement.
"This vehicle is as appealing to young millennials as baby boomers," she says.
The 500, known as the Cinquecento in Italy, comes in three versions: the entry level Pop at $15,995; the Sport at $17,995; and the Lounge, starting at $19,995. The prices include destination charges. Fiat officials expect the Sport model to be the biggest seller.
They also expect the automatic transmission-equipped models to account for most U.S. sales. The 500 equipped with the automatic transmission is rated at 34 mpg highway. Chrysler started producing the automatic version Jan. 24 at its Toluca, Mexico, factory. The top-of-the-line Lounge model comes only with the automatic transmission.
The automatic gearbox was one of several major additions Fiat made to its Europe-designed car to make it more salable to American consumers.
The North American car is quieter and rides more softly than its European counterpart. The added quietness is due to extra sound insulation in the body structure and power train, including a plastic engine cover that the European model lacks.
The ride quality gets a boost from a new, beefed-up rear axle, which is 300 percent stiffer than the European version, allowing the springs more travel, according to Fabio Di Muro, chief engineer.
The North American model's 1.4-liter engine gets Fiat's Multiair intake-valve controls. Fiat says the system, not available on the European 500, improves fuel economy and power by 10 percent over the same engine without Multiair.
(Source: Automotive News)