Last year Fiat brand (excluding Abarth) sold 1,330,000 vehicles in the whole world. Volume fell by 5% compared to 2018, and was the lowest global result since 1985, when the estimated sales totaled 1,250,000 units. According to the data, Fiat sold 870,000 fewer cars than in 2009, when the last record was set.
Nothing has been done to revert this negative trend that started in 2009. After the introduction of the Fiat 500 in 2007, the brand has not had any other driver of change in its lineup, whereas its mainstream rivals in Europe and Brazil have invested on new products that continue to appeal the public.
Italy and Brazil make up more than half of global volumes
Fiat is strong in only two markets: Italy and Brazil. Combined sales in both markets counted for 52% of its global total in 2019. One year earlier, they made up 49% of total. The 12% increase posted in Brazil was offset by a decline of 10% in Italy, meaning that the South American market is once again Fiat’s biggest market in terms of sales.
The dependence on one or few markets is not a weird thing in the industry. Volkswagen brand for example sells 47 in 100 of its vehicles in China; 45% of Ford sales take place in USA. The problem here is that there is not a clear strategy for the brand outside Italy and Brazil.
Fiat stopped its operations in USA, has never played an important role in South America (except for Brazil and Argentina), and it barely sells other non-Fiat 500 models in the European markets. Consequently, the brand is probably living the toughest times over the last 30 years.
Still one SUV
Fiat is the only big brand in Europe that has only one SUV in its lineup. The Fiat 500X arrived in 2015, some years after the B-SUV boom started, and even if it has not done bad in terms of sales, it remains as the only SUV in Fiat range.
This is a big part of the reason why Fiat struggles. The SUV market is the only driver of growth in Europe, North America, China and even in some developing markets like South America and India. A poor offer in this segment can make the difference, and this is the case of Fiat brand.
In contrast to Fiat’s tiny SUV lineup, all of its direct rivals in Europe have many more. Volkswagen for instance, offers 5 different models; Renault and Peugeot have 3 each; Ford has the Ecosport, Puma, Kuga and Explorer; and even brands with a lower traction like Seat and Citroen have more than one SUV in their lineups.
Jeep eclipses Fiat
I wrote about it some months ago: Jeep is Fiat’s main problem. Most of the efforts, resources and investment is going to Jeep because it is the SUV brand of the group. Even if this is true, the group has forgot to transfer some of the SUV know-how to the rest of brands. It happens not only to Fiat, but also to Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Dodge and Chrysler.
In 2009, when Fiat and Chrysler groups started to date, there were 6.9 Fiat’s for every Jeep sold. Last year, there were 1.1 Jeep’s for every Fiat sold. Unfortunately, the rapid growth of Jeep has meant the continuous decline of Fiat brand. As soon as the group does not invest on the Italian maker, Fiat is due to become a niche player.
Fiat 500 can’t do all
The 500lization of Fiat lineup can be a good thing when the iconic Fiat 500 grows in sales, but can be a negative strategy when the model gets old. This is what happened in 2019, when this city-car turned 12 years without major updates.
It is certainly a popular car, and was actually Fiat’s second best-selling model last year counting for 14 in 100 of the vehicles sold in 2019. It made up 28% of the brand’s volume in Europe, and 38% excluding Italy. It is definitely a key product.
However, after many years of the same, the 500 global sales fell by 8% in 2019 to 192,000 units (including Abarth). This means that it was not able to drive growth as it was the case for many years, and its drop affected the good results posted by the Fiat Panda (+8%) and Tipo (+3%).
Abarth needs more models
During its 12 years of recent history, Abarth has had 3 different models in its lineup. The Abarth Punto, Abarth 500 and Abarth 124 Spider have been rebadged, more powerful and more expensive versions of existing Fiat models. Although FCA has made efforts to differentiate them from the mainstream siblings, only the Abarth 500 has succeeded.
Is it really worth keeping this brand when Fiat brand struggles to enlarge its lineup? I believe it does as long as the current sales levels continue. An Abarth 500 is much more expensive than a Fiat 500 and should leave more profits too. However, Abarth needs more products and should follow the good example of other recently introduced brands like Genesis, Cupra or RAM (and try to avoid the DS case).
Source: own research, national vehicle sales statistics, car associations, OICA, Goodcarbadcar, JATO, Bestsellingcarsblog, ANFIA, ACEA