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Non-Chrysler dealers may get Fiat franchises

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Non-Chrysler dealers may get Fiat franchises

Bradford Wernle

Automotive News -- July 30, 2010 - 4:08 pm ET

Some non-Chrysler Group dealers may receive franchises to sell Fiats, said Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat and Chrysler.

“I think there's going to be a large part of the distribution that will be part of the Chrysler environment,” Marchionne told reporters today. “There may be others that will not” be Chrysler dealers.

Marchionne spoke after President Barack Obama's appearance at Chrysler's Jefferson North Assembly Plant.

He also said Fiat franchisees could also get the Alfa Romeo franchise, which will return to the United States in 2012.

Marchionne said Chrysler already has begun making pre-production versions of the Fiat 500 minicar at its Toluca, Mexico, factory, and the car is on schedule for volume production late in the year. Fiat plans four 500 models, including the base 500 two-door hatch, a convertible, a sporty Abarth and a four-door hatch with a raised roof.

In early July, Chrysler sent out packets to its dealerships in 125 markets in 41 states it considers prime markets for small cars. The company will invite interested dealers to a briefing on the Fiat franchise in August at Chrysler's Auburn Hills headquarters.

Afterward, the company will review proposals from dealers and likely announce which ones it has chosen for the Fiat network in September.

Marchionne stressed that Fiat will be a standalone franchise.

“The potential of Fiat is unique,” he said. “There is nothing Jeepish about the 500. It's an Italian car, and a Jeep is a Jeep.”

Chrysler planners think the Fiat 500 will be popular primarily in urban markets where parking spaces are at a premium and traffic is congested.

Chrysler dealers who are willing to invest in dedicated Fiat showrooms and who score high on Chrysler's new Dealer Standards program will be given special consideration for the Fiat franchise.

Some Chrysler Group dealers are eager to sell the 500, expecting it to bring new, young customers to their dealerships. But some Chrysler dealers already have said they have little interest in Fiat.

Lithia Motors Inc. CEO Sid DeBoer said this week that getting Fiat won't be a big priority for his chain, which has 23 standalone Chrysler stores and derives 29percent of its new-vehicle unit sales from the Chrysler stores.

“We're not in a lot of the markets that they are targeting,” DeBoer said. “It's not going to be a major initiative for us.”

Read more: http://www.autonews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100730/RETAIL07/100739984/1422#ixzz0vD6c6ekO

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