Fix It Again, Tony

Fiat has a long history in the United States, although that history has not always been particularly enjoyable for its owners. In 1908, the Fiat Automobile Company established a plant in Poughkeepsie, NY and began producing Fiats a year later, long before Chrysler opened for business in 1925. Sales grew through the 1970’s until Fiat earned the derogatory “backronym” Fix It Again Tony for the brand’s poor reliability and problems in the 1980’s. Consequently, Fiat left the United States in 1983 with a reputation for poor quality cars that has plagued the brand for years.

The company has been running scared from Tony ever since; but not anymore. Today, Olivier Francois, Fiat’s Chief Marketing Officer, calls Tony the elephant in the room. At last month’s Los Angeles Auto Show, he promised to retire that perception with the latest addition to Fiat’s brilliant marketing campaign. The Fiat 500X takes Tony head on. Both the 500X and the Jeep Renegade are built in Melfi and exported to the United States. The Fiat 500X is expected to arrive in U.S. showrooms next year. The commercial features Fiat’s skeleton in the closet. “The elephant in the room,” according to Francois. “His name was Tony, and he had to go.”

We’ve owned shares of Fiat since the London-based company listed in the US. Our research efforts, which began last summer, have focused on the company’s operations, management stewardship and brand values. Since then, “some” of us have developed a bit of a man crush on Fiat’s CEO, Sergio Marchionne, who was recently named Automotive News’ Industry Leader of the Year. In short, Marchionne is a stud and has a number of levers at his disposal to highlight the value of Fiat’s brands. But since this is a holiday week, I thought we’d have some fun looking at the company’s creative side before analyzing its operational track record. Stay tuned.