Fiat expects 500X’s Italian styling to win sales in booming segment

Fiat is touting the 500x’s Italian styling as a standout feature that will help the car win sales in the booming but hotly contested subcompact crossover segment.

The 500X’s styling reflects the cute iconic design of the 500 minicar from the 1960s and “when you buy a 500, you buy a little piece of Italian lifestyle”, said Olivier Francois, Fiat brand global boss, at the car’s unveiling at the Paris auto show.

The 500X will be sold in 100 countries including European markets and the United States. It is almost identical to a styling model briefly shown in July 2012.

The 500X will appear in European dealerships by the year end, and next spring in the U.S. It will be offered with front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive options but won’t target Jeep’s offroad customers. “You wouldn’t be able to follow a Jeep Renegade uphill with the 500X,” Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said at the Paris show.

Like the Renegade, the 500X will have a nine-speed automatic as one of its transmission options. Other transmission options will be six-speed manual and automatics. Safety equipment will include blind spot detection, adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assistance.

Francois said the 500X will target the mainstream customers and its 4200mm length helps to make it roomy inside.

The 500X and Renegade are being built on the same production lines at Fiat’s factory in Melfi, central Italy, where the planned annual volume for the Renegade is up to 150,000 units, while the 500X version will account for 130,000 units, according to supplier sources. In Europe, the 500X will replace Fiat’s slow-selling Sedici, which Suzuki built at its plant in Hungary.

The 500X joins the 500 three-door hatchback, the 500 convertible, the 500L five-seat minivan and the longer seven-seat 500L Living.

In the first eight months, sales of the 500 range in Europe grew by 23 percent to 188,645 units, data from JATO Dynamics shows.

The 500X’s four-wheel-drive option may help the car compete with Europe’s subcompact crossover segment leaders, the Renault Captur and Peugeot 2008, which are only available in front-wheel-drive variants.

Analysts say the 500X and Renegade will appeal to different types of customers. The strength of the 500X will be its design, while that of the Renegade will be its functionality, said Ian Fletcher, an IHS Automotive analyst.

The subcompact SUV/crossover niche is the industry’s fastest growing market segment globally. IHS Automotive forecasts worldwide vehicle sales in the segment to rise 31 percent to 1.95 million units sales. The growth will continue next year, IHS says, with sales rising to 2.56 million units.