Group LLC is trying to ensure the 500, a cultural icon in homeland Italy, will cruise seamlessly into mainstream America’s car market.
Among the additional equipment the minicar will feature when it launches here in December is cruise control, Ward’s learns.
The 500 is not available with cruise control in Europe, unlike 94.4% of ’10 U.S.-market cars built in North America through May, according to Ward’s data.
The stylish car that took Europe by storm in 2007 will be assembled at’s plant in Toluca, Mexico.
Less clear is the 500’s transmission picture. Manual transmissions are standard equipment overseas, while the optional gearbox is an automated manual branded Dualogic.
An informed source says the North American 500 definitely will have an automatic gearbox, but offers no detail regarding its design – automated manual or conventional automatic.
Some 82% of ’10 U.S.-market domestic car production through May was dedicated to conventional automatics, compared with 9% for manual gearboxes. Continuously variable transmissions accounted for the remainder, according to Ward’s.
Of the 5- and 6-speed manuals available in Europe, only the latter is expected to arrive here. The 5-speed gearbox is mated to a 1.2L I-4 engine that is not coming to North America.
The Chrysler-built 500 will be powered by’s 1.4L FIRE I-4.
While Chrysler declines comment on the car’s specs, it has said the 500 would meet the expectations of North American consumers.
To this end, Chrysler is conducting a “Fiat Experience” meeting for dealers in Detroit on Monday.
Dealers in the running to acquire a 500 franchise – Chrysler has dictated the car must be sold in a separate “salon” – are getting a “deep dive” on the product, says Alfred Flores, vice chairman of the auto maker’s national dealer council and principal of Spring Chrysler Jeep Dodge in Spring, TX.
Among the discussion topics will be “how it will appeal to American drivers,” he tells Ward’s.
Much hinges on the 500 – and every coming Chrysler offering – as the auto maker strives to hit the 1.65 million vehicle sales that will deliver a full-year operating profit, according to Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne.
With 617,753 deliveries through July, the auto maker is tracking ahead of recession-torn 2009 when it sold 927,200 vehicles. A Ward’s forecast for 2010 says the company should claim 9.5% of an 11 million-unit market, which translates to just under 1.1 million sales.
Chrysler has been mum on projected volume for the 500, but expectations for the car have been compared with the North American sales performance ofAG’s Mini Cooper line.
Both cars have European lineage and, coincidentally, bear the fingerprints of designer Frank Stephenson, U.K.-basedAutomotive Ltd.
Since the Mini arrived in the U.S. in 2002, its sales have trended upward except for 2006 and 2009. However, despite last year’s depressed economy, Mini recorded 45,225 deliveries – its second-highest total after 2008’s 54,077, according to Ward’s data.
Launching in the U.S. with a 3-door hatch, the Mini’s lineup has evolved to comprise the stretch-version Clubman, a convertible, various performance-oriented models, a small test fleet of electric-drive units and the pending all-wheel-drive Countryman. A coupe and roadster also are planned.
Chrysler promises an Abarth-branded performance version of the 500, in addition to a cabrio model. Pricing has not been confirmed, though the auto maker has suggested its sticker will be competitive with the Mini.
For ’10, Mini prices range from $19,500 to $34,700, according to Ward’s data.