2nd Fiat store opens

Posted by:

AutoNation, the top-selling U.S. dealership group, officially opened its second Fiat store Wednesday, pursuing its goal of becoming the Italian brand’s largest dealer in the U.S.

The retailer, which plans to have seven Fiat stores, opened Team Fiat Mall of Georgia on Wednesday in Atlanta and had inaugurated its quest in March with Power Fiat of South Bay in Torrance, Calif.

AutoNation is embracing Fiat and its tiny 500 after avoiding the Smart brand when Daimler brought it to the U.S. almost four years ago. Mike Jackson, the dealership group’s CEO, calls Fiats “irresistible,” saying their style and efficiency embody the secret to selling small cars in the U.S.

“Fiat 500 has this unique combination of an emotional appeal, at the same time being a very rational decision,” Jackson said Wednesday. “Fiat has it figured out better than anyone. I wanted to be there from Day One. Since it’s AutoNation, we only know one way to step in, and that’s big.”

Jackson bought his own Fiat convertible Wednesday, a black 500 Cabrio with a tan interior.

Fiat plans to have 130 stores by the end of the year and has 97 so far. They sell the 500, which starts at $16,000 with shipping and gets up to 38 m.p.g. on the highway, and its convertible, which starts at $20,000.

Fiat’s store openings have proceeded more slowly than hoped for, held up partially by the extra-snowy winter, North American brand chief Laura Soave said. But the 97 dealerships that have opened are in the markets where small-car sales are strongest, she said Wednesday.

“It will succeed,” she said. “The only question is how fast it succeeds.”

AutoNation is in the midst of a “summer tour” of employee meetings, after nearly three years of focusing on surviving U.S. auto sales’ 2008 and 2009 plunge to quarter-century lows. The dealership group, which saw its profit surge 52% in the second quarter, predicts U.S. sales of cars and light trucks will total 12.6 million this year, up from 11.6 million in 2010. It also predicts U.S. sales will approach the pre-crash norm of 16 million by 2013.

Despite several weeks of bad economic news, bleak employment prospects and a sliding stock market, Jackson said the auto industry is continuing its recovery “in principle.”

“We’re on a journey back to 16 million units. The only question is how long it takes,” he said. “Of course, we’d like it faster, but as long as it’s moving in the right direction, the industry will be fine, and AutoNation will perform well.”

AutoNation’s stock closed Wednesday at $36.15, up 1.1%.

Leave a Reply

Your Name: (required)

Your Email: (will not be published) (required)

Your Website:

Your Message:

submit comment