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A new car comes to town

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  • | 9:12 p.m. November 4, 2010
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The remnants of the federal government's bailout of Chrysler should come motoring down Gulf Coast roads early next year courtesy of Fiat, the Italian car known more for style than substance.

And Don Osborne, one of the few Gulf Coast auto dealers who recently secured the rights to sell the two-door Fiat 500, hopes the cars will be a boon for business. “It's not a cheap little car,” says Osborne, general manager of Sarasota-based Sunset Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep-Ram. “It's a sporty little car that still gets good gas mileage.”

Osborne's dealership is one of about 20 in Florida and 180 in the country chosen by Chrysler management to be the first run of dealers to sell the cars. The dealership was chosen over others, Osborne says, because of its central location between Tampa and Fort Myers and the fact that it has a vacant showroom on U.S. 41 it plans to use for the Fiats.

Osborne tells Coffee Talk that the showroom, about five miles south of downtown Sarasota, will be renovated to make room for the cars. The first Fiat 500s should arrive by the end of 2010 and will likely be available for sale by February. “I think this hits the cool factor,” says Osborne. “It should fit a niche that we haven't had.”

Chrysler corporate executives also hold high hopes for the Fiat, which hasn't been sold new in the U.S. since the early 1980s. The car should get 40 miles per a gallon of gas, the company has touted. It will cost between $15,000 and $20,000.

A sales launch of Fiats in the U.S. became a likely scenario in the fall of 2009, when Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy with Fiat SpA as a partner and co-owner.


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