LOS ANGELES – With the introduction of the Fiat 500 to U.S. shores, the Italian automaker is building its brand presence in the U.S. at the same time it’s bringing a vehicle to market. Fiat’s North American head Laura Soave gave a presentation about the 500 and how Fiat intends to market the vehicle in the U.S. at a meeting of the Motor Press Guild in Los Angeles. She said that the Fiat brand will fill Chrysler’s small-car market position in the U.S. In addition, the company reiterated its plan to introduce a fully electric version of the 500 in 2012 to the U.S. marketplace.

With regard to the company's brand strategy, Soave said that at first the 500 will be associated with Fiat in the US, but that as time goes on they intend to separate the two through the introduction of a wider range of small car models.

Currently, the 500 is slated for availability in 37 states and is on its way to the U.S. and Soave said that two cargo ships carrying Fiat 500s are on their way to U.S. shores to fill preorders. The 500 will come in three trim levels, the Pop, Sport, and Lounge, starting at an MSRP of $15,500 for the Pop, $17,500 MSRP for the Sport, and $19,500 MSRP for the Lounge.

Whether the car will succeed in the U.S. marketplace remains to be seen, but Soave said that Fiat has a great deal of experience in the small car market and that a number of other vehicle features are likely to drive sales in the U.S. For fleet managers, the primary features of interest are the 500’s safety characteristics, including seven air bags; fuel economy, MPG of 27 city/34 highway; and customization, including 14 exterior color options and 14 interior seating color options, which could help a fleet manager maintain the company’s or organization’s corporate branding with fewer additional modifications.

Fiat’s Soave and the chief engineer for the Fiat, Fabio DiMura, brought up the 500’s 1.4L MultiAir engine, which comes to the U.S. for the first time in this vehicle, and how it helps the vehicle achieve better fuel economy a new type of intake valve system (which Fiat calls a Fully Variable Valve Actuation, FVVA, system), which replaces a traditional overhead cam with four hydraulic solenoids for instantaneous air-fuel adjustment at any time in the engine cycle to produce the power needed based on driving conditions, which improves engine efficiency.

In addition the MultiAir engine, the 2012 Fiat 500 also features the eco:Drive Application, which collects vehicle data for future analysis by drivers. A user can download this information onto a USB drive via the vehicle’s BLUE&ME USB port. The eco:Drive Application provides a detailed look at emissions, the driver’s driving style, and recommends driving style changes to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions.

By Greg Basich