Fiat Reputation Redo Might Include a New PR Firm

Welcome back, Fiat. After a 25-year hiatus from the United States, Washington dealerships will start selling the new Fiat 500s next month.

But as a Washington Post article points out, “Fiat faces established rivals and will have to overcome a past reputation for unreliability.” The story quotes auto analyst Rebecca Lindland of IHS Global Insight on where the company’s re-entering the American landscape from. “‘Fix it again, Tony’ is what it’s been called,” she says. “And the company didn’t exactly leave the States on a high note.”

USA Today writes that “few expected Fiat to return” when the Italian brand was pushed out by a combination of “growing Asian brand sales, low gas prices and a reputation for vehicle breakdowns.” Fiat aims to sell on the image of “sophisticated European design” the story goes, and to keep it classy by having ‘studios’ instead of dealerships.

Though the article points out that many US consumers are likely to have no idea Fiats were known for reliability issues, a J.D. Powers and Associates’ 2010 Vehicle Ownership Satisfaction Study in Europe puts it low on the list of car brands sold in France, Britain, and Germany. Guess the extra-flashy warranty the 500 comes with might come in handy after all.

According to PRWeek, Fiat has issued an RFI for consumer work, although the Chrysler Group, which partnered with Fiat in 2009, would not confirm that.