It was like an old Hollywood movie premiere. Flood lights swept the front of a gleaming brick, steel, concrete and glass structure on South Figueroa St in Downtown Los Angeles. The cool Tuesday night air probably even sent a shiver under nearby Tommy Trojan’s tunic. There was a phalanx of valets and even a red carpet.
But this was no movie premier. This was the preview opening of the Chrysler Group’s new flagship store featuring all five brands, including Fiat. This was also the debutant ball for the 2012 Fiat 500 minicar and a boondoggle for the Italian consulate in LA. (It seemed like they were all there having a very good time.)
Motor Village of Los Angeles, as this dealership is known, is the first of its kind. Chrysler says it’s a prototype for future stores and the first effort in a program called Marketing Investment. Chrysler plans on identifying areas where the company wants a presence. It will purchase land and finance the building of the dealership. A dealer may or may not take a minority interest in the project at inception; but eventually Chrysler plans on selling the store to a dealer.
This particular location was a Pierce Arrow dealership in early part of the 20th Century. However, the building has undergone significant structural and architectural changes to be the massive four story, 180,000 square foot glass and brick box it is today. The large, circular sign tower structure on the north west roof corner is so close to the Harbor Freeway that they are going to need a small maintenance army to keep it shiny clean.
Drinks, espresso bar and cocktail food were on the second floor Fiat Studio that overlooks Figueroa Street. The full bar was in the Ram Truck showroom in the back of the Fiat Studio, adjacent to the parking structure. The reception, platitudes and unbridled optimism was on the roof as were more cocktails, sublime desserts and one monstrous cake in the shape of the Fiat 500, but it was almost about the size of the original500.
You know deep pockets were stroking the check for this event. All the food (with the exception of the cake) was catered by Mario Batali’s Osteria Mozza, one of my favorite restaurants in the city. The catering staff was wonderful, forcing us to eat all those scrumptious Italian delights.
This was the first time I’ve seen a Fiat Studio – as envisioned by corporate – and it’s the first time I’ve seen the Ram Truck brand separated from its longtime companion, Dodge. The Fiat Studio was high-tech red and white lacquer – kind of like a Pedini kitchen meets a W Hotel lounge.
For all the optimism I couldn’t help but feel that this ultra costosostore was a real Hail Mary pass. If the purpose of this dealership is to sell Jeep Wranglers and Fiat 500s to USC students and the poor suckers who bought into the decades-long hype of Downtown revitalization, then it succeeds.
If it is meant to reach a broad swath of desirable demographic buyers in the LA Metro corridor, from Santa Monica to Silver Lake, then I’m not so sure. Even the survival of Chrysler is still up in the air. Chrysler says this store will be managed by “a couple” of experienced dealers, but has yet to name them. And if those dealers were asked to pay back the significant investment in real property, I doubt they would be profitable anytime soon.
Concurrent with this event, Chrysler released a list of 130 Fiat dealers, with plans to add another 35 to cover 119 markets it identified as having “strong growth potential” for small car sales over the next five years.
Here are the LA Area dealers listed by Chrysler:
- Fiat of Irvine
- Fiat of Costa Mesa
- Fiat of Ontario
- Fiat of Thousand Oaks
- Fiat of Downey
- Fiat of Long Beach
- Fiat of Palm Springs
- Fiat of Puente Hills
- Fiat of Torrance
Huh? Fiat of Downey? If you thought there was something missing on this list, you’re right. Nothing in Santa Monica, Culver City, West LA, Beverly Hills, Mid-Wilshire, Hollywood, Glendale, Pasadena, Sherman Oaks, Van Nuys or Woodland Hills.
If I wanted to buy a Fiat 500, I’d have to go to the USC-adjacent Motor Village store for sales and service. Ugh. But to be fair, MINI, Fiat’s only competitor, doesn’t have many stores either. In addition to Nick Alexander in the industrial area south of Downtown, there is MINI of Universal City and Monrovia MINI.
If Fiat wants to compete better in the LA area, it will need at least one store between Downtown and Santa Monica beach. I hope that’s in the cards with the yet-to-be-named franchisees.
I didn’t get to drive the Fiat 500 at the event, but we had lots of open cars to examine, adjust, kick tires and slam doors. Like the MINI Cooper coupe, I just fit comfortably in the driver’s seat and no one can sit in the back seat behind me except my miniature dachshund, Augie. Unlike the MINI, I found the dash and center console ergonomics much more intuitive and user-friendly.
I think Fiat can work in major metropolitan areas where parking in precious and people can use it as the latest fashion accessory. I can already see it being used for delivering pizzas or shrink-wrapped to advertise computer repair or some designer vodka.
Bentornati negli Stati Uniti, Fiat. Buona fortuna!