Newspaper people know that obits are written in advance – so they’re ready to go when the inevitable does occur.
Fiat is looking a little green around the gills.
Automotive News reports that Jeep – the most profitable arm of the Fiat-Chrysler conglomerate – sells more vehicles in a week than Fiat is likely to sell this year.
There is reportedly a six month inventory of cars awaiting owners at Fiat dealers – which is actually very good news for buyers. Fiat is selling new cars for the price of used ones. You can still find leftover 2018s on many dealership lots – and this means deals.
But it’s not good for dealers to sell new cars for the price of used ones. And it can only go on for so long.
Part of the problem, says the conventional wisdom, is the absence of any new Fiats.
The 500 micro-car hasn’t been updated since it was introduced back in 2011 – but this is arguably a good thing, given the updates visited upon new cars – most of which now come standard with a number of annoying and distracting saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety “features,” including Lane Keep Assist/Steering Assist, which is really steering correct/control. The system tries to force you back into your lane if you don’t signal before you change lanes – or try to turn off the road without signaling first.
Even if there’s no reason to signal – other than mindless genuflection to traffic law totems.
The Fiat’s engine doesn’t automatically stop every time the car does – and then automatically – but noticeably – restart when you take your foot off the brake pedal and apply pressure to the gas pedal.
The 500 is a cute – and fun – little car.
It is exceptionally easy to find a parking spot for one and yet it is startlingly roomy inside. Unlike the idiotic SmartCar, the 500 can accommodate passengers and cargo – a lot of cargo for its size. It’s also been around for long enough to establish that it’s a good car – contrary to the Fix It Again Tony stereotype.
It ought to be selling well.
Especially because it hasn’t got some of the latest “features” that new cars have.
The problem is the relentless propaganda eructed by the car press that such “features” are must-haves and the derisive commentary applied to those which don’t have it.
Despicably, such cars are described as “less safe” than the cars that do have these features – even though these “features” have no bearing on whether the car is or isn’t predictable/controllable to drive.
The Fiat 500 is is arguably safer than most cars precisely because it is small and agile – and so more maneuverable as well as less of a target. It can bob and weave.
Granted, if you hit something – or something hits you – it may not hold up as well. But that does not mean it is more likely to be hit – or to hit something.
But it has become practice to characterize – to synonymize – cars that haven’t got flashing warning lights like the Christmas tree in a redneck’s trailer and vibrating seats/steering wheels and steering that countersteers and brakes that apply themselves with cars that have weird and dangerous handling characteristics or bad brakes.
There are no new cars that fall into that category.
But not to have the constantly flashing lights/buzzers/nudges, etc. is taken as the equivalent of buying an evil-handling, wreck-prone old jalopy.
Also, people – in the main – seem to no longer want affordable cars. Or rather, cars they can afford. The Fiat 500 is extremely affordable. Just over $16k on paper for the 500 and a helluva lot less in fact. You can buy a new 500 for around $12k – which is less than half the price paid for the average new car (just over $35k) last year.
The Fiat’s price is so low many people could write a check for one. Or could, if they saved up a little. And even if not, the monthly cost to finance a $12k car is nearly nil. About $160 per month. That’s not much more than the cost of the latest iPhone.
But people don’t buy the 500 – or its slightly larger siblings, the 500L and 500X. Probably because they’re able to get loans for more car than they can afford. Just like they used to be able to get loans for houses they can’t afford.
Even pre-tax, the purchase of a $35,000 car represents more than half that sum. And post-tax, it represents a great deal more than that. In economically and otherwise saner times, families pulling in $61k gross would not qualify for a $35k car loan for reasons that ought not to require elaboration. But we live in economically insane times – and sane cars like the 500 can’t get purchase, so to speak, because people have been hypnotized into believing there really is a Big Rock Candy Mountain – just sign here.
Another factor – an interesting factor given the keening ululations of Uncle – is that gas is cheap and so people don’t care that much about gas mileage, a major selling point of the 500. Uncle cries that his fatwas demanding ever-higher MPGs are absolutely necessary because without them, the evil car companies would sell nothing but “gas guzzlers.”
Fiats don’t guzzle. But people choose to buy other cars that do.
It hasn’t helped that Sergio prematurely departed.
Sergio Marchionne – the head of FCA, who unexpectedly died last summer – was as much the animating force of FiatChrysler as Steve Jobs was of Apple. Both companies aren’t what they were.
The question, though, is what will become of Fiat?
It doesn’t look good. Unless gas prices go up – or enough people decide to buy cars they can afford as opposed to cars they can get loans for – it is probable that Fiat is going to sleep with the fishes before too long.
Which is a goddamn shame given you could buy three 500s for the price of one Tesla – and go twice as far in any one of them.
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