Chrysler says more dealers than expected signed up to sell Fiats in United States

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Chrysler: Dealer interest in Fiat exceeds goals

DETROIT — When Chrysler officials tallied the number of applications from dealers who want to sell Fiats in the U.S., they counted more than expected.

The deadline to apply for Fiat franchises was Wednesday, and Chrysler says the number of applications surpassed its goal of having 165 locations when Fiats go on sale later this year and 200 dealers nationwide in a few years.

Spokesman Ralph Kisiel would not give a specific number, but said the company plans to pick those who will get Fiat franchises within a few weeks.

Chrysler, which has been run by Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne since it emerged from bankruptcy protection last year, plans to start selling the tiny Italian-designed Fiat 500 in the U.S. starting in December.

About 400 dealers attended an August presentation on the Fiat product lineup in Detroit as the brand tries to re-enter the U.S. market after a 30-year absence.

Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep dealers who get Fiat franchises will be asked to have separate showrooms to display what initially will be only one model, the distinctly European 500. It eventually will come in electric, convertible and high-performance versions. Larger models from Italy’s Lancia are possible later.

Chrysler hopes to sell 50,000 of the stylish, bulb-shaped 500s the first year they arrive.

Fiat-run Chrysler Group LLC wants the 500 to become a strong contender in the U.S. small-car market, where the Detroit automaker has struggled for years.

Dealers will have to build separate showrooms and have separate sales and service staffs for the cars, in order to help create a distinctive European aura for the 500.

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