Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. (NYSE: FCAU) has fought a losing uphill battle to sell its Fiat models in the United States. A prime example is that it takes Fiat an average of 175 days to sell its 500L, based on the time when it reaches a dealer and the time when it is sold, according to Kelley Blue Book.
The entire Fiat lineup has been a failure in the United States. So far in the four months through April, the sales of the base 500 have been up only 2% to a tiny 5,221. Sales of the 500L are off 77% to 399 over the same period. Sales of the 500X are down 38% to 2,724.
The Fiat 500L is a four-door version of Fiat’s base 500 model. Its starting price is $20,995. Fiat says it has “best in class storage,” although that obviously is not a claim that has excited consumers. The Pop edition of the 500L, which is the least expensive model, gets 22 miles per gallon in the city and 30 on the highway, which is relatively poor for such a small car.
Among the problems Fiat has in general is how poorly its vehicles rate for quality. In the widely followed J.D. Powers car surveys, the brand rates at or near the bottom. The same is true for the widely followed Consumer Reports car survey. In its review of the 500L, Consumer Reports commented:
This Italian confection feels undercooked and has several significant flaws. It earned a dismal road-test score, thanks in part to a stiff ride, flat seats, and an odd driving position. No surprise, owner satisfaction is low–meaning a strong percentage of owners wish they hadn’t bought this hatchback. The 500L also has one of the worst reliability records among all new cars in our recent survey. If that still isn’t enough to dissuade you, it scored a Poor in the IIHS small-overlap frontal test. To its credit, this quasi-wagon responds eagerly in corners and handles securely at its limit, and has a roomy cabin. But it would take more than those virtues for this to earn a place on a smart shopper’s list.
As much a challenge is the huge portfolio of cars that compete with Fiat. Each major manufacturer in the United States has a light, high gas mileage car. And some of these are among the best-selling models in the country. Honda Motor Co. Ltd.’s (NYSE: HMC) Civic was the ninth best-selling car in America over the first four months, with 112,865 units sold. The Nissan Sentra is also among the top 20 best-selling cars, with sales of 71,669 though the first four months.
Six months on average is an astonishingly long time for car to spend on a dealer’s lot. Coupled with its low sales volume, the recovery of the 500L as a viable model for Fiat Chrysler is nearly impossible.