Fiat re-enters Korea with three new models

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Fiat re-enters Korea with three new models

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Chrysler Korea President Pablo Rosso, second from right, introduced Fiat’s Cinquecento, Cinquecento C and Freemont yesterday at the W Seoul Walkerhill Hotel in Gwangjang-dong, eastern Seoul. The Italian brand Fiat is re-entering the Korean market for the first time since 1997. [NEWSIS]

Italian auto giant Fiat has returned to Korea for the first time since 1997 with its popular city car Cinquecento.

The 114-year-old carmaker from Turin yesterday had a brand launching ceremony at W Seoul Walkerhill Hotel to introduce three models: the Cinquecento, Cinquecento C and Freemont.

“We think that there is a space for us in this market,” said Massimo Roserba, head of the company’s Asia-Pacific region. “Fiat is ready to elevate customers’ lives with our passion for unique design, technology and an unexpected new driving experience.”

Roserba said Fiat can be a success because Korean consumers have developed a taste for cars from abroad.

Imported car sales have increased sharply in recent years, accounting for 10 percent of the domestic passenger car market. Although industry forecasts have been for a sluggish 2013, January sales figures indicate the imported car market is still growing. The Korea Automobile Importers and Distributors Association yesterday reported 12,345 foreign-made cars were sold last month, a 30.8 percent increase from a year earlier.

Roserba said Fiat will be a good fit for Koreans interested in fuel economy and standing out from the crown. “We are trying to introduce a new lifestyle here, not just a car,” said Roserba. “Our models offer all the design, craftsmanship, quality and details you expect from Italian products.”

Fiat has a long history with Korea. The automaker formed a relationship with Asia Motors in 1971, when the Korean automaker assembled and manufactured its Fiat 124. Kia Motors, which acquired Asia Motors in 1976, started manufacturing the Fiat 132 from 1979 and sold it here until 1981.?
After Kia stopped assembling the Fiat 132, the brand’s vehicles were imported by Kumho Group in the late 1980s and by Hanbo Group in 1996, but shipments were halted in 1997 due to the Asian financial crisis.?

But after 16 years, the brand is coming up with a more direct and organized business platform, using some of the resources of Chrysler Korea, which will be the official importer and distributor. Fiat owns a 58.5 percent stake in Chrysler. Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne recently told local media that he expects to merge the two companies after acquiring the remaining Chrysler shares from the United Auto Workers pension fund.

For now, Fiat models will be displayed in eight showrooms in Korea with 70 sales agents and 50 technicians. The company said its goal is to have at least 12 showrooms by the end of the year.

“From day one, we will work to satisfy our customers,” said Chrysler Korea President Pablo Rosso. “Certainly Fiat can share our dealer network and leverage resources.”

When asked about the brand’s sales target, Rosso declined to specify a figure, saying only that the company is working to consolidate the brands. But sources said Fiat hopes to sell 3,000 units in a year in Korea, including 200 Cinquecentos per month.

Industry insiders said the Fiat models will be fierce competition for the BMW Mini Cooper. The German model was one of the top performers in Korea, selling nearly 6,000 units last year and taking 4.5 percent of market share among foreign brands.

At the launching ceremony, Fiat officials emphasized uniqueness and practicality, while promoting price competitiveness. The Cinquecento ranges from 26.9 million won ($24,780) to 29 million won, nearly 15 percent lower than the price for Minis, according to the company. Meanwhile, Cinquecento C was unveiled with price tag of 33 million won, while the Freemont seven-seat SUV will go for 49.9 million won.

Ross said the three new Fiat models are made in Mexico, so they do not benefit from the Korea-United States or Korea-European Union free trade agreements. The Italian CEO said Fiat models from other regions could show up in Korean showrooms in the future, but for now what’s important is to raise public awareness and appreciation of the brand.

“We are just starting the brand and everything is open,” Rosso said.


By Joo Kyung-don [kjoo@joongang.co.kr]

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