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Fiat Starts Taking Orders. Can It Win Big with the Small 500?

Fiat 500
Karen Bleier | AFP | Getty Images
Fiat 500

President's Day was a busy day for Fiat dealer John Bergstrom in Milwaukee. Busier than he expected.

"If we had 30 Fiat 500's here at the dealership, we'd deliver all of them within the next two days," Bergstrom told me.

Not a bad way to kick off sales of a new model.

On Monday, Bergstrom and other Fiat dealers around the country started placing orders for the new Fiat 500.

For weeks they've been telling those interested in the new car to be patient, the 500 would soon be here.

Well, now the first ones are in showrooms and they bring with them some key questions.

1) Are Americans ready to embrace another pint-size car?

I think they are.

The 500 is hitting showrooms at a time when gas prices and auto demand are both increasing. That combination will make the 500 a hot seller for most of this year.

2) Do Americans still hold the memory of terrible quality against Fiat?

I don't think that will be an issue. I drove the 500 for several days and encountered several people who brought up having bad experiences with Fiats back in the 60's and 70's. But, that was a different time and a different Fiat company. I talked with many people who said they are ready to give the Italian automaker a shot.

3) Will the Fiat 500 be embraced or viewed as a pint-size tin can?

I think the 500 has the styling, ride, and feel people will want in a micro-car. The company talks about "Italian styling" attracting buyers, but nobody I showed the car to felt the car had an Italian flavor. They did like the way the 500 instrument panel is set up and blends with the rest of the interior.

So now that Fiat is officially back in the game here in the U.S. we'll see if the 500 is a hot car or just another new model. My gut says they will be in heavy demand.

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