For Fiat, a Disastrous End to a Difficult Year

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The Fiat brand of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. (NYSE: FCAU) continued to bleed sales in the final month of 2017. The brand only moved 1,738 cars in December, down 33% year over year. This was much worse than the troubling fall-off for the entire year, which was a drop of 19% to 26,492. Fiat sold an average of only 73 cars a day over the course of 2017.

Brands with tiny sales numbers are usually in the ultra-luxury segment and not the low-price, high-gas mileage segment Fiat is in. But even some of the most expensive brands had sales better than Fiat last year. Jaguar sold 39,594 cars and sport utility vehicles in 2017. Porsche sold 55,420. Land Rover sold 74,739. Even Maserati sold 13,711. Granted, it was a good year for luxury car sales overall, but these numbers should not be, for the most part, better than those of a brand that aspires to be mainstream.

All Fiat’s models had down years, except the Spider sports car, which was only available for some months of the 2016 period. Its 2017 sales rose 81% to 4,488. Sales of the base Fiat 500 dropped 18% for the year to 12,685. (Notably, they were down 53% in December to 667.) Full year sales of the 500L dropped 47% to 1,664. It is a wonder Fiat even offers the model anymore. Sales of the 500X dropped 35% in 7,665.

Among Fiat’s challenges is that it often receives bad quality evaluations from consumer research firms. Among the two most widely followed, J.D. Power and Consumer Reports, Fiat did very poorly last year.

Fiat is also up against all the largest manufacturers in the low-priced, high-gas mileage segment. Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM), Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F), General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM), Nissan and Honda Motor Co. Ltd. (NYSE: HMC) all have one or more cars and SUVs in the category. Some, like the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic, sold hundreds of thousands of units next year.

Fiat Chrysler management has to decide, or has decided already, whether another set of double-digit sales drops for the Fiat brand is acceptable in 2018. One thing is for certain. The brand faces the same problems this year as it did last.