WINDSOR, ON – Chrysler Group LLC’s alliance with Italy-based Fiat Auto SpA likely spells payoff for the pentastar company’s Canadian-market sales, says Reid Bigland, Chrysler Canada Inc. president and CEO.

With its strong-selling minivans and pickups, Chrysler is a major player in Canada’s light-truck market. But the auto maker is absent from B-segment competition and weak in C-cars with two entries, neither of which are scheduled for production beyond 2012.

Combined, B- and C-segment cars accounted for 488,596 deliveries in 2009 – more than half the nation’s total car sales, according to Ward’s data.

So partnering with small-car specialist Fiat “fits like a glove,” Bigland tells Ward’s, highlighting the response to the Fiat 500 at last month’s Toronto auto show.

Crowds swooned at a display featuring a European-spec 500 and its high-performance Abarth cousin, he says.

A similar outpouring occurred days later when Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne spoke at a fundraiser. The event benefited victims of last year’s earthquake in the Abruzzo region of Italy. Marchionne was born in Abruzzo but grew up in Toronto.

Bigland senses a powerful “affinity” developing between the Fiat 500 and Canada’s vibrant Italian community, centered in Toronto.

Canadians with Italian heritage comprised 4.6% of the country’s 31.6 million residents, making it the sixth-largest ethnic group, according to 2006 census results.

The car, set for assembly at Chrysler’s plant in Toluca, Mexico, will be available in Canada late this year or early next.

Chrysler has said allotment in the U.S. will be restricted to urban-area dealers who construct “salons” to showcase the 500 separately. But Bigland says the distribution plan for Canada is still under development.

All he knows for certain is Canadian dealers who receive the car will be “top performers” who have made store modifications to highlight the car and the Fiat brand. The nature and extent of the modifications are among the requirements yet to be determined, Bigland adds.

The 500, which has drawn critical and popular praise since its launch in Europe nearly three years ago, is the first of seven B- and C-segment vehicles headed for Chrysler showrooms.

In 2012, Fiat will produce a pair of B-cars for Chrysler – one bearing the core brand’s badge and the other, a Dodge.

The following year, Fiat platforms will be used to support two Jeep-brand utility vehicles. One promises to be a B-segment entry, while the other will replace the C-segment Jeep Patriot and Compass.

The remaining two vehicles, which also arrive in 2013, are C-segment sedans, one each for Chrysler and Dodge. The Chrysler model effectively replaces the PT Cruiser that is slated to end production this year, while the other new car will supplant the Dodge Caliber, scheduled to exit the auto maker’s lineup in mid-2012.

emayne@wardsauto.com