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Fiat 500L to Debut in Geneva

U.S. likely to get only 5-passenger version.

by on Jan.30, 2012

Fiat continues rolling out new models - such as the 500 Gucci Edition, hoping to finally gain some traction.

Bigger is better, or so goes the classic mantra of the American motorist.  So, can Fiat improve its fortunes by going just a wee bit bigger with an extended version of its 500 minicar?

Company officials confirm they will reveal the stretched version of the Cinquecento at the upcoming Geneva Motor Show, what is expected to be called the Fiat 500L likely to land in U.S. showrooms in 2013.

At just over 163 inches, the new model will measure only about 2.5 inches more than the current model, yet Europeans will be offered both a 2-row 5-seater and a 3-row 7-seat version.

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One of several sources confirmed that current plans call for offering only the 5-seat model when the Fiat 500L jumps the Atlantic.

According to a report in Automotive News, there will be a variety of different powertrains available, depending on market, including a 2-cylinder, 900cc version of the Fiat MultiAir engine, a 1.3 liter diesel, and the 1.4-liter gasoline MultiAir currently used in the American version of the standard wheelbase Fiat 500, which currently makes 101 horsepower.  It’s unclear if Fiat will try to beef that up to add some extra muscle to what would be a larger and heavier 500L.

The maker is struggling to expand its line-up to broaden the brand’s appeal.  The first versions of the Fiat 500 missed their original U.S. sales target of 50,000 by roughly 50%, last year, and Chrysler/Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne recently declared that something in the 25,000 range is more realistic for this year, as well, even with new products coming.

The maker formally unveiled the Abarth edition – which bumps the pony count to 168 – at this month’s Detroit Auto Show.  A battery version of the Fiat 500 is also coming in the months ahead.

“Clearly, a year ago, it was difficult to get a clear sense of where the brand would go,” Olivier Francois, Fiat’s global chief executive, told TheDetroitBureau.com.  “We just didn’t know.”

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But in a recent interview, the French-born executive insisted that with the addition of new product the 50,000 sales target it readily attainable.  He pointed to the growth of rival small car maker Mini, which recently announced plans to boost its own line-up to 10 different models over the next several years.

Fiat has a number of challenges, however.  It landed second to last in the latest Consumer Reports Auto-Brand Perception Survey, barely above the now-defunct Saab.

Simply gaining attention in a crowded automotive market hasn’t been easy, acknowledged Francois, telling TheDetroitBureau.com that prior to the maker’s first ad campaign launching last autumn barely 10% of American car buyers were aware of the brand.  That has risen to nearly a third despite the controversy over the use of pop star Jennifer Lopez in the Fiat TV commercials.

According to Automotive News correspondent Luca Ciferri Fiat will produce the 500L at a plant in Kragujevac, Serbia.  The factory once built the much-maligned Yugo.  Fiat is investing close to $1 billion to modernize the facility.

Yet another new all-new model will be added to Fiat’s U.S. line in the next several years, executives tell TheDetroitBureau.com.  Details are sketchy but Fiat global brand boss Francois stressed that the maker will focus exclusively on the B-segment of the market, which would suggest that it will only be slightly larger than the current 500 or the upcoming 500L.

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