Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Inc. (NYSE: FCAU) executives have to be scratching their heads and asking what it takes to sell a Fiat in America. They have not come close to an answer.
Fiat sales dropped 24% last month to 2,622. It should be too little to keep the brand alive in the United States.
Fiat’s sales for January through October were nearly as bad. Off 20% year over year, they totaled 27,721. This would have been worse if not for the new Spider, which sold 1,875 units for the period, against none last year.
Quality problems continue to bedevil the Fiat, as do the large number of competitors for low-weight, high-mileage, low-priced cars. Fiat ranked next to last in the new Consumer Reports Car Brand Reliability study, which rates 29 brands in all. Its 500L was listed as one of the 10 least reliable cars:
Price as tested $24,595
Trouble spots Slipping or lock-up transmission, power equipment, drive system, in-car electronics
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 also low—meaning a strong percentage of owners wish they hadn’t bought this hatchback. The 500L also has one of the worst reliability scores among all new cars in our recent survey. If that still isn’t enough to dissuade you, it scored a Poor in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s small-overlap frontal crash test. To its credit, this quasi-wagon responds eagerly in turn, 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.
Fiats run from just under $20,000 up to $31,000 as base stickers for models. There is no single major manufacturer of non-luxury cars with U.S. dealerships that does not have one or more competing models.