Chattanooga is on track to join the first wave of 130 U.S. cities receiving Fiat automobiles, with deliveries set to begin within a week, officials said.
Crown Automotive won the right to sell Italian cars like the 2012 Fiat 500, and will spend about $2 million through 2013 preparing a new showroom, which Fiat calls a "studio."
Though officials haven't nailed down the location, they're likely to build on unused space at the current Crown Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram dealership.
The new cars could prove popular among customers seeking a dazzling array of options along with high fuel economy and safety accolades, said Tim Roussell, general manager of the new dealership as well as the existing Chrysler dealership on Chapman Road.
As part of the deal with Fiat, which owns a majority stake in Chrysler, Crown also will begin selling Alfa Romeos, an Italian Luxury Brand, within two years, said Crown spokeswoman Amanda Tossberg.
Showroom in 2014
"We're currently adding employees to specialize in Fiat, and will add more as the brand grows with the addition of Alfa Romeo," she said.
New Fiat sales kick off by early November, when Roussell is set to receive a dozen new vehicles, he said. The new showroom will be up and running within two years, he said.
Instead of the traditional method of car buying, where customers choose a vehicle from the lot, Fiat's studio will allow buyers to choose a set of options, with the promise that the factory will deliver their custom car in 30 to 60 days.
"We've been getting 10 to 15 customers a week asking us when we were rolling out the Fiats," Roussell said. "The J.Lo commercials have driven up online traffic tenfold."
With a price tag of between $15,000 and $25,000, the cars aren't the least-expensive options for price-conscious buyers, but Roussell believes that the stable Chattanooga economy will lead to brisk sales.
First-year sales could top 300 cars, he said, and the dealership will begin offering vehicle service immediately.
"We haven't seen the downturn in the Chattanooga market that some of our other markets have seen," said Roussell, who claims the largest Chrysler dealership in Tennessee.
Fiat rushes in
Fiat is currently in a rush to move into the U.S. market because of economic turmoil in Europe, as well as credit troubles stemming from its Chrysler acquisition, according to the Associated Press.
Fiat registered a 7.8 percent drop in sales in September compared with a year earlier while its European market share shrank to 6.5 percent in September from 7.2 percent a year earlier, the AP reported.
"It impacts consumer attitudes, and that is probably the most negative thing about all of this. It really negatively impacts moods," Fiat president Sergio Marchionne told reporters.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...