Fiat & Hybrid Update
Fiat returns to the U.S. market after a nearly 30 year absence. But, it seems, American car buyers are not embracing their first offering.
After saving the Chrysler Group from liquidation, Fiat had hoped to sell some 50,000 Fiat 500 ultra-compacts here annually. But, recently Chrysler was forced to stop production of the 500’s 1.4-liter engine due to slow U.S sales. More than 100 hourly workers were laid off in November at Chrysler’s Global Engine Manufacturing Alliance Plant in Dundee, Michigan. Automotive News obtained internal Chrysler documents stating the automaker had a 184 day supply of the Fiat 500 available for dealers. A normal supply would be 70 days.
But, the design of the 500 may not be to blame. Evidence indicates Americans are not switching to smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles in mass. Even with $3.50 a gallon gas, SUVs and pickup trucks are gaining market share. With the exception of the Toyota Prius, hybrid cars are not in big demand either. Ford, for example, is seeing slow sales of both its Fusion and Escape hybrid. In fact, when the new Escape arrives next year, the hybrid model will be dropped.
And speaking of Hybrids, we know they are safe for occupants, but what about the pedestrians outside? In a Study by the Highway Loss Data Institute, found that hybrids are 20 percent more likely to be involved in pedestrian crashes than a conventional vehicle. When a hybrid is in electric only mode pedestrians may not hear them approaching. Earlier this year, Congress gave the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration three years to develop a required device that alerts pedestrians a hybrid vehicle is coming their way.
Japan already requires a pedestrian warning device for hybrid and electric vehicles. The typical alert system emits a humming sound, which rises and falls in pitch according to the vehicle’s speed. Many hybrids like the Toyota Prius V, and electric cars like the Nissan Leaf, already have such systems.