Fiat is killing the cute 500
In a short statement issued this week, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles confirmed the end of the road for the current Fiat 500 subcompact in North America. Production of the 500 at FCA’s Toluca Mexico plant, which assembles North American market 500s, will end in November. Fiat already stopped making the electrified 500e in June. FCA attributes discontinuing the 500 model, which relaunched the Fiat brand in the U.S., to changing consumer tastes.
“As consumer preference continues to shift toward larger vehicles, we’re seeing competitors and consumers vacate the small-car segment,” FCA spokesman Bryan Zvibleman said.
The decision is the latest challenge for Fiat dealers who, for years, had just the 500 to sell while the late Sergio Marchionne, who helmed Fiat’s return to North America, kept promising more product to fill the standalone stores those dealers had built. They eventually got to fill out their showrooms with other models but the 500 has remained the core of the brand here. Year-to-date it is still Fiat’s best selling vehicle in North America so dealers will have a hole in their lineup.
“It was the core vehicle that represented the brand, that they launched the brand in the U.S. with,” Karl Brauer, an analyst with Cox Automotive told The Detroit News. “It was a key part of Fiat’s brand and image, despite its increasingly falling sales over the past five-plus years.”
FCA sold just 914 Fiat 500s in the second quarter of this year, a 4.1-percent drop from 2018. When Fiat relaunched the brand in North America in 2011, with the 500 as its only model, it sold almost 47,000 units in its first full year of sales. Last year, however, Fiat only sold 15,521 vehicles in the U.S., a steep 40-percent drop over the previous year.
North American Fiat dealers will continue to sell the 500X all-wheel-drive compact crossover, the larger five-passenger 500L SUV, and the Fiat 124 Spider sports car, jointly developed with Mazda’s Miata.
In addition to consumers now preferring larger utility vehicles, the 500 hasn’t aged well. The modern 500 was introduced in 2007 and there haven’t been many significant changes since then. Twelve years is akin to an eternity when you’re talking about the age of an automotive platform.
The 500 never hid the fact that it is an economy car. Even the more upscale, high-performance Abarth variants felt sort of cheaply made. As for the 500e, it was primarily a “compliance car”, an electric vehicle made so that the state of California would let Fiat sell its conventionally powered vehicles there. With just 84 miles of range, it’s not very practical compared to modern EVs like the Nissan Lead and Chevy Bolt.
If you’d like to get one of the last 500s produced, it doesn’t look like you’ll need to hurry. Fiat said that the current inventory should last into 2020.