Ten years after its debut at Geneva Motor Show 2012, Fiat has officially discontinued the 500L. This little MPV was the first attempt of the brand to expand the success of the little 500 to other segments. It came as a successor of the Fiat Idea, produced until 2010, and as a response to the MPV boom that the European market experimented some years before.
Fiat has axed the 500L from its lineup in Europe without a successor in the pipeline. Consequently, it joins the large number of models that disappeared from the former Fiat group lineup without a direct successor. The Alfa Romeo Mito, Giulietta never got a new generation. The Lancia Delta was axed in 2014, leaving the Ypsilon as the only Lancia available. The Fiat Punto, Multipla, 124 Spider, and Marea never had a second chance either.
The main problem of the 500L was the time of its introduction. As it happens to other products of the former FCA, this MPV arrived when the segment was not trendy anymore. It happened to the Giulia in 2016 and the decreasing sales of the sedans. In 2012, the sales figures were already showing an accelarated shift from the MPVs to the small SUVs.
By that year, the European demand of MPVs was solid but dropping. After continuous growth since 1995, the sales finally started to fall since 2007, after the sales peak in 2006 at 2.24 million units. The trend was set by the Renault Megane Scenic in the mid 90’s and became a boom for more than 10 years.
Fiat started to work on this project in 2007-2008, when the SUVs began to take sales away from the MPVs. It started with the Nissan Qashqai and a very timid 8.4% market share of SUVs against 13.7% of MPVs. By the year 2010, when Fiat management released its 2010-2014 product development plan, which included the L0, or the code name for the upcoming 500L, the sales of MPVs in Europe had dropped to 1.62 million units, or 11.8% market share.
In 2011, the SUVs outsold the MPVs for the first time, and the 500L had not been launched yet. When it was finally released, Citroen had been selling the C3 Picasso, its main competitor, for 3 years already. The Opel Meriva had been available since 2003, and the Nissan Note since 2006; and Hyundai, Kia had their ix20 and Venga since 2010. Fiat sold the Idea between 2003 and 2012.
A big Panda
The other issue that did not help the 500L was that in terms of design, versatility and positioning, it was closer to a Panda than to a 500. Although it aimed to extend the success of the iconic 500, the 500L had more things in common with the Panda, a popular vehicle only in Italy. Therefore, the big 500 was never appealing abroad, as the majority of consumers tended to link it to the Panda.
Its introduction in the US never helped either. The consumers in America love big cars, and even if the 500L was definitely bigger than the 500, it was still a small car for their standards, and lacked the personality of the small brother. During the 9 years it was available, Fiat sold 35,317 units of the 500L in USA. The 500 (Fiat and Abarth) sold almost 196,000 units in 10 years, while the 500X has found 40,000 clients since 2015.
During its 10 years carreer, Fiat sold 620,000 units of this model in the whole world, including the 500L Living. A bad result that could have been avoided if they had launched it some years earlier.