Fiat hopes Gucci version will boost US 500 sales

AP News
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Posted: Aug 16, 2011 9:28 AM
Fiat hopes Gucci version will boost US 500 sales

Fiat will introduce a Gucci version of its stylish 500 mini car in the United States later this year.

The black special edition of the car features glossy paint, chrome detailing and a leather interior with white accents. It has the Italian fashion label's interlocking "GG" inscription on the headrests and wheels, and Gucci's signature green-and-red stripe along the body side, the seat belt and seat backs.

It will be introduced Sept. 8 at the start of New York Fashion Week but won't hit showrooms until December.

It's an effort to boost sales of the car, which have been slow since its U.S. debut in March.

Fiat has sold about 11,500 of the mini cars in the U.S. and Canada, well short of its 50,000 goal for the year.

Fiat has been slowly opening U.S. dealerships. It now has about 100 nationwide and says it expects higher sales through the rest of the year. The company plans to have a total of 130 dealers nationwide, mainly in larger metro areas.

Fiat stock was trading down by as much as 6 percent, at euro4.87 ($6.99), on the Milan Stock Exchange on speculation that it would not meet the 500's sales targets in North America.

The Gucci 500 unites two of Italy's most emblematic brands, the Fiat automaker and the historic Gucci leather goods and fashion label.

The Gucci version of the car was the brandchild of Lapo Elkann, an heir of the Fiat-founding Agnelli family, who persuaded Frida Giannini, Gucci's creative director, to collaborate on the project over lunch in Rome.

The Gucci version was launched in Europe earlier this year to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Italian unification and the 90th anniversary of Gucci's founding in Rome.

The 2012 Fiat 500, a three-door hatchback with rounded styling that evokes the original 500 from 1957, is Fiat's first vehicle in the U.S. since it pulled out of the market in 1983 because of rust problems and other quality issues.

Fiat said it will announce the price of the Gucci edition closer to its U.S. debut. The 500 starts at $15,500 in the U.S. A Gucci convertible version also will be offered.

Fiat now owns 53.5 percent of U.S. automaker Chrysler Group LLC and is looking to combine the companies. Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne was given management control and a 20 percent stake in Chrysler after it left bankruptcy protection in 2009.