CHELSEA, MI – Fiat took a pounding in this year’s J.D. Power Initial Quality survey with 206 reported problems per 100 vehicles, far more than the industry average of 116 PP100.

But next year will be different, vows the brand’s U.S. chief, who says the disappointing results were the result of an unusual model-year transition.

Jason Stoicevich says the study was based on ’14 model-year vehicles, but because of extensive changes made to the 500 hatch, most of those vehicles weren’t available for evaluation. Rather, 91% of the evaluations were made on the 500L, a newcomer to the Fiat stable that also includes the high-performance Abarth and 500e electric vehicle.

“We had to build ’13-model-years well beyond what we normally would,” he tells WardsAuto at a media event here. “Therefore we had no ’14 model-year sales on the hatch, where the majority of our sales come from. So when the study was done, 91% of the study relied on the 500L, which is a new car where there are always quirks to work through.”

Regardless, the executive says there are “no excuses” for the survey results, adding
“We’ll be significantly improved in that study next year.”

Stoicevich says Fiat is gaining ground in the U.S., and is expected to further grow sales with the 500X CUV in first-quarter 2015.

Fiat’s U.S. sales were down 1.2% in 2013 compared with like-2012 to 43,326 units, according to WardsAuto data. Through May, U.S. deliveries were up 16.7% to 20,494.

Without revealing volume expectations, Stoicevich says the 500X will be a significant boon to the Fiat brand.

“The icon is the 3-door and the halo is the 500X,” he says. “That’s the game-changer of the brand. It is the first offering we will have that there is really no reason not to want to be part of the Fiat brand. We checked all the boxes in respect to coolness and sexiness and provide functionality and other offerings you wouldn’t expect out of a small-car brand.”

Stoicevich says the 500e EV, currently only available in California, has been selling well. Deliveries to Oregon have just begun, the second market chosen for the vehicle. Although Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne has stated publicly the 500e is a money-losing proposition, Stoicevich says it has not hurt the car’s popularity among EV enthusiasts.

“What he said is accurate, but it didn’t hurt sales,” he says of Marchionne. “If anything it drew a little more attention to it.”

bpope@wardsauto.com