TURIN -- Fiat so far has failed to establish its tiny 500 as a chic city car in China despite a direct link to Italian luxury-goods maker Gucci.
The struggles of the 500 by Gucci could be foreboding to PSA/Peugeot-Citroen and Renault, which both hope to win sales in China because of local consumers' love of high-end French brands.
The 500 by Gucci special edition, which Fiat calls "a fashion statement you can drive," has had a negligible effect on sales for the minicar nameplate in China. The automaker sold less than 600 units of the entire 500 range in China last year, according to IHS Automotive.
Fiat's main volume model in China, the locally made Viaggio compact sedan, also has been a weak seller. Fiat sold 11,288 Viaggios last year and 12,212 from January to April, Morgan Stanley figures show. Fiat targeted 20,000 Viaggio sales for 2012 and 100,000 this year.
The Viaggio, a rebadged Dodge Dart, has been built at a greenfield plant in the Changsha Economic Zone in Hunan province since June 2012 by GAC Fiat Automobiles, a 50-50 joint venture between Fiat and China's Guangzhou Automobile Group that was established in 2010.
Prior to the Viaggio's production start, no Fiat models had been produced in China since 2007. Despite missing the Viaggio's sales target, GAC Fiat General Manager John Burton is pleased with the progress the Italian brand has made so far. "We formed the joint venture with GAC; learned to be partners with them; hired a work force; developed a car; established a network; and started production. I mean, these are tremendous achievements for the first year," Burton said.