Chrysler Targets Hipsters With Fiat 500

The Chrysler Group unveiled the new Fiat 500 at yesterday’s LA auto show. The Fiat 500 will hit US markets in January 2011 at a starting price of $15,000. USA Today has more on Fiat’s marketing plans:

When Fiat sold cars in the U.S. in past decades, it wasn’t known for reliability, so to allay those fears, Fiat says the 500 will have a four-year, 50,000-mile, bumper-to-bumper warranty and free maintenance.

Laura Soave, CEO of Fiat in North America, says potential buyers of the 500 aren’t older folks who remember Fiat’s former U.S. vehicles as gorgeous but troublesome. Fiat quit the U.S. market after the 1983 model year.

The new Fiat 500′s prospects, she says, will be younger hipsters. “It’ll be seen as a new brand, a cool Italian brand.” And when they research the 500, “They’ll see it’s a worldwide icon,” helping pre-sell them on the car.

Just like 1980′s retro fashion, companies are relying on Gen Y-ers’ shorter lifespan to spin something everyone else has doubts about.

How does the Fiat 500 measure up technically? CNET’s Antuan Goodman describes the sporty little hatchback:

Under the hood is Fiat’s award-winning 1.4-liter MultiAir engine, which uses a sophisticated form of variable valve timing to output 101-horsepower and 98 pound-feet of torque. So, while you won’t be towing any trailers with such low power levels, we are still talking about a power-to-weight ratio similar to that of the Mazda2–which we all loved to drive. The 500 will be available with a five-speed manual transmission, with gear ratios modified for the U.S. market, or a six-speed automatic gearbox. The 500 also gets a larger 10.5 gallon fuel tank to help it cope with the longer average trips made by American buyers and an uprated climate control system to better deal with the broader range of temperatures on our continent.

In the cabin, the 500 carries its Microsoft-developed Blue & Me voice activation command for handsfree calling, as well as its available TomTom navigation system. The latter manifests itself as a 4.3-inch portable navigation device that docks at the top of the dashboard. North American 500s get new steering wheel mounted controls.

On a promising note, the Chrysler Group, which is majority owned by Fiat, is also planning on releasing an EV version of the Fiat 500 in 2012. A high-performance version of the Fiat 500 is also slated for 2012.

With a decent enough car, and urban appeal, the hipsterized Fiat brand just might work.

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