Fiat Gets Slaughtered in December

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Fiat Chrysler Automobile N.V.’s (NYSE: FCAU) embattled small car brand, Fiat, posted a December sales drop of more than half from to December 2015. The Fiat brand sold only 2,206 vehicles in the United States last month.

Fiat’s sales dropped 54% in December and were down 24% for the year to 32,742. Sales of its base 500 model dropped 36% for 2016 to 15,437. Sales of the 500L, the stretched version of the car, were down 59% to 3,118. The only vehicle that did well is the 500X, its crossover, but its sales rose only 3% to 11,712. Sales of its new Spider sports car reached only 2,475 for the year.

These figures beg the question of whether Fiat is a viable brand in the United States. Its small, cheap, high gas mileage cars have huge competition from every major manufacturer that sells cars in America. This end of the car industry has fallen out of favor with consumers as their tastes have moved to sport utility vehicles and pickups.

Fiat’s quality problems are well-documented and have to severely dent its sales. 24/7 Wall St. has written about these problems:

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. (NYSE: FCAU) brands usually do poorly in surveys of car quality. In the Consumer Reports’ Annual Owner Satisfaction Survey, all four of the company’s brands did poorly, and two did very poorly. …

Fiat Chrysler cars and light trucks have made similar grades in J.D. Power and American Customer Satisfaction Index studies.

Oddly, Fiat Chrysler executives have barely acknowledged the problem, and they have not set out any road map toward improvements. That should not give owners, dealers or prospective buyers much comfort.