Thursday, February 14, 2008

FIAT 500: My Next Car

2008 Fiat 500

Just in time for $3 gas, Fiat dreams of an American comeback.

Retro is still cool, according to Fiat, which has already tapped into its past for a new badge and created a fashionable range of merchandise featuring its logo style from the 1920s.

The latest Fiat 500—cinquecento in Italian—is also about reestablishing Fiat's Italian pride. Five years ago, Fiat was in dire straits and seemed certain to fall into the arms of General Motors under an agreement made in 2000. Sergio Marchionne, a Canadian-Italian businessman, was appointed CEO of Fiat in 2004 and given the freedom to do whatever it took to turn the company around. His first action was to negotiate a divorce settlement with GM, which ended up costing the General $2 billion. A jubilant and now cash-rich Fiat put ads in newspapers throughout Italy proclaiming, "Fiat is Italian again."

Small cars are Fiat's specialty, and a range of new ones—starting with its cheapest model, the Panda, and following with the Grande Punto—has improved Fiat's sales. Following the success of the modern-day Volkswagen New Beetle and Mini Cooper, Fiat presented the Trepiuno concept at the 2004 Geneva auto show. The concept borrowed the design of the 1950 Nuova Fiat 500 but was built on a modern Panda platform. Three years later, and 50 years to the day after the first appearance of the iconic original, a party that involved the whole city of Turin welcomed the debut of the '08 500. -BY RAY HUTTON

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