Chrysler Group LLC is starting to pick dealers to sell Fiats in the U.S. when the Italian-designed cars start arriving in December.
The automaker said Wednesday that it wants Fiat dealers in 119 U.S. markets _ mostly in areas that have a high number of small-car registrations _ and will name more dealers by year's end. It would not say how many dealers have been selected because the dealers have not yet been notified.
Chrysler, which is now controlled by Italy's Fiat, previously said it hoped to have 165 Fiat stores in the U.S. by early 2011, with the ultimate goal of having 200 locations.
The company wants the Fiat 500 minicar to become a strong contender in the U.S. small-car market, where Chrysler has struggled for years. It would be sold mainly in metropolitan areas where subcompacts are easier to maneuver and park than larger cars.
Some Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep dealers chosen will build new facilities while others will convert buildings into dealerships. Chrysler said it has also received Fiat proposals from dealers outside the company and is now reviewing their bids.
Chrysler said dealers will be ready to take orders for the Fiat 500. The company is looking to sell 50,000 of the 500s in the first year. It will eventually be sold as a convertible and electric car, and larger vehicles from Italy's Alfa Romeo brand may come later.
Laura Soave, head of the Fiat brand in North America, said in a statement that the company is looking to make the sales experience unique and personal for Fiat customers.
About 400 dealers attended an August presentation on the Fiat product lineup in Detroit as the brand tries to re-enter the U.S. market after a 30-year absence.
Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep dealers who get Fiat franchises are being asked to have separate showrooms to display what initially will be only one model, the distinctly European 500. Chrysler plans to build the Fiat 500 at a factory in Toluca, Mexico.
Last month Chrysler said it would use Ally Financial Inc. as its preferred lender once it starts selling the Fiats. Ally Financial, formerly called GMAC, is already the main lender for Chrysler dealers and customers.
(This version CORRECTS that Chrysler may provide larger cars from Alfa Romeo rather than Lancia.)