Editor’s Note: This week, Peter takes on FIAT and the latest “brilliance” pouring forth from its CEO, Olivier Francois. In On The Table, we look at the stunning Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa that is coming to auction next month at Sotheby’s. We also preview Jeep’s first global battery-electric vehicle (BEV), the all-new, all-electric premium Jeep Wagoneer S (yawn). And our AE Song of the Week is “Why” by Annie Lennox. In Fumes, we bring you Peter’s “The Muscle Boys” – when big block V8s ruled the racing world. And finally, in The Line, we bring you the latest IMSA results from the Roar Before the 24 at Daytona. Enjoy! -WG
By Peter M. DeLorenzo 
Detroit. It wouldn’t be the auto biz, at least as it’s practiced here, without an appearance by Olivier “I’m a genius just ask me” Francois, the man who carries the weighty title CEO of FIAT and global chief marketing officer of Stellantis. After all, Francois has distinguished himself – at least intermittently – with some memorable Super Bowl spots, the best of the bunch being “Farmer” for Ram truck from 2013, which used the iconic words and voice of Paul Harvey. It was, quite simply, the best automotive commercial of the past decade, and it did wonders for the Ram truck brand and also pumped up Francois’s already considerable ego.  
Francois fancies himself as a musical genius as well, and he loves hanging around with celebrities, thinking the rub-off makes him a star too. It doesn’t, because celebrities – musical or otherwise – love the money first and foremost, and Francois gets to call them “friend” during and after their collaborations, which is something that he clearly craves. I would best describe Francois as the “King of Borrowed Interest,” as he orchestrates existing creative to suit his sensibilities and project whatever brand he’s paying attention to at the moment.   
And Francois’s brand of the moment is the semi-iconic (at least if your automotive flavor runs Italian), always forlorn and woefully pathetic FIAT – the car company that has enjoyed intermittent interest in this market, but that has remained eminently forgettable throughout its latest renaissance. Remember when The Bombastic One (aka Sergio) promised dealers that FIAT would lead the way to riches for them while dangling Alfa Romeo franchises as a reward for a job well done? Yeah, nobody else does either, except of course, those dealers who are still smarting from pissing away real money on brick and mortar for FIAT dealerships that turned out to be a monumentally stupid investment. 
FIAT is Francois’s latest vanity project, and this just in and in case you’re wondering: everything he involves himself in is a vanity project. After all, if it isn’t about him, he really has zero interest in it. In this case, Francois thinks that his laying of his hands on the FIAT brand will immediately push the brand to “buzz” status, and his reputation will grow even larger, at least in his mind anyway. 
And what is the FIAT brand bringing to the table? A reimagined and fully-electric 500, which is rechristened as the 500e, “100 percent electric, 100 percent Italian,” according to Stellantis PR minions. The little 500e is said to weigh 3,000 lbs. and have a 149-mile range. The 500e is part of the “Dare Forward 2030” that Stellantis is touting, which projects 50 percent in EV sales in North America by 2030, and 100 percent in EV sales in Europe by 2030. (That all sounds well and good, just don’t plan on making any inroads in the Chicago market, or anywhere else where the thermometer gets near zero.) 
On paper, the 500e may make sense to some. After all, its sticker price will be $32,500, and as I’ve written repeatedly, affordability is the most important factor in the market now and it will continue to be going forward. The manufacturers who understand that are going to be successful. Unfortunately, in the 500e’s case, it can only be considered a third or fourth car for most consumers due to its miniscule size. There will be exceptions of course, especially for the consumer who doesn’t need range and only needs a car on occasion. Then it might just workout fine. But reality suggests that those buyers will be few and far between. 
But, and there’s always a but when it comes to Francois, he’s counting on his marketing genius to create an otherworldly buzz for the 500e, which is no surprise since it has been his “M.O.” since Day One. His big idea? FIAT will do “drops” of the 500e like Nike does shoe releases. Of course, pushing $150.00 shoes is a lot different than trying to create myriad special editions of a car that most people would be hard pressed to consider to begin with. The naiveté of this plan is plain as day to everyone except Francois, of course. But since he has pronounced it as the path to marketing success for the FIAT brand going forward, his boot-licking minions have no choice but to pronounce it “good” as well, even if they’re all laughing on the inside.  
Make no mistake, FIAT as a brand is a complete afterthought in the North American market. Francois and his minions will attempt to make some noise, but it will be full of sound and fury signifying nothing. Yes, they might gain some sales in the “smile states” but beyond that, this effort will be yet another nonstarter for a brand that doesn’t belong here. As a matter of fact, FIAT is already AE’s Answer to the Question that Absolutely No One is Asking for 2024, and we don’t expect that to change, even if it is only January. 
But Francois will tout its success anyway, as the sales hover around negligible, because after all, everything he touches turns to gold, didn’t you know? Just don’t look too deep after the fact because you’ll swear you’re reading a new chapter of The Emperor’s New Clothes.  
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week. 

The FIAT 500e.


Editor’s Note: Click on “Next 1 Entries” at the bottom of this page to see previous issues. – WG

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