Question: Can Fiat Be The Next Mini?

By Brandon Turkus

February 03, 2012

Yesterday, Fiat gave a preview of its upcoming 500L, a five-passenger, five-door, B-Segment vehicle that is set to debut at the 2012 Geneva Auto Show in March. Being the first member of the 500 family to really depart from the core 500 hatchback, we were wondering if the Italian brand could replicate the successful strategy of a certain British brand.
You see, Mini took a car, the plain-jane Mini Cooper hatchback, and spawned a successful and rapidly growing lineup of diverse body syles that still retain the traditional Mini driving spirit. The standard car underpins a long-wheelbase Clubman, a four-seat convertible, a two-seat coupe, an all-wheel-drive SUV, and soon, a two-seat Roadster. Yet each car represents a decidedly different vehicle, and allows Mini to exploit a unique market.
Mini has executed this concept brilliantly, with 2011 sales up around 15 percent over 2010. Notably, of Mini’s 57,511 units sold, 30 percent were from the new-for-2011 Countryman and Coupe, meaning the newer, more diverse models (notably the Countryman, which represents the largest departure from the traditional Mini) are catching on with consumers.
There’s something similar going on at Toyota, with the Prius taking a similar approach. The hot-selling hybrid has already given birth to the larger Prius V, while a plug-in hatchback and the small Prius C will hit the market before the end of the year. Like Mini, Toyota is diversifying one car, which allows the brand to appeal to a more diverse group of consumers.
Fiat’s first year in the United States was a tough one. Of the 50,000 expected sales, only around 20,000 were sold.  So with the 500C starting to arrive in greater numbers, and the upcoming release of the sporty 500 Abarth and 500L, can the newly diversified Fiat become the sales success that Mini and the Prius family have been?