PORTLAND – For the first time in 27 years, you can buy a new Fiat in the United States.

And you don’t have to go far.

Portland’s Quirk Auto Group is one of 122 auto dealers nationwide that are gearing up to sell the Fiat 500, a new subcompact that’s designed to compete head-to-head with the Mini Cooper and other small cars.

The brand has not been sold in the United States since Fiat, based in Turin, Italy, pulled out of this country in 1984.

“The business model follows the Mini,” said Jack Quirk, who has three new Fiat 500s in stock at his dealership on Brighton Avenue.

One is a marketing car that Quirk can’t sell. The other two, which were ordered by customers but never purchased, are available for sale to any buyer.

Quirk sold a fourth Fiat days ago.

He said the 500 is designed and marketed to appeal to drivers who want individuality, fuel efficiency, and a sporty and fun ride. He said the brand’s “Italian panache” resonates with some consumers.

Sticker prices for the 500 range from $15,500 to $19,500.

Fiat dealers nationwide are building new showrooms, or renovating old ones, to meet Fiat’s requirements, said Tim Reardon, a spokesman for Quirk Auto Group.

Fiat calls its showrooms “studios.”

Reardon said Quirk’s Fiat studio, which will be behind Quirk Chevrolet, will have a rounded interior and hold four cars. There will be a cafe where shoppers can get espresso, and an “interactive dashboard” — a computer that customers can use to design their own Fiats.

Quirk said he expects the renovation of the studio will be complete in June or July, by which time he will have more models.

One new Fiat owner is Richard Golen, 58, who lives in South Dartmouth, Mass.

Golen, who bought a 500 in Massachusetts last week, said he likes cars that are lightweight and quick, with a minimalist design. He has owned BMWs, a Volkswagen GTI and two Porsche models.

The new 500, which Golen said has a strong power-to-weight ratio and quick handling, fit his bill.

“I’ve been having a blast with it. … At over 2500 rpm, it takes off like a rocket,” he said.

In 2009, Fiat took steps to re-enter the U.S. market, forming an alliance with Chrysler Group, which was in bankruptcy.

Quirk, which owns Chrysler dealerships elsewhere, said the partnership gave Fiat access to Chrysler’s extensive network of domestic dealers while enabling Chrysler, known primarily for its minivans and Ram trucks, to break into the market for small, fuel-efficient cars.

He said the Fiat 500, with a highway efficiency rating of 38 miles per gallon, will also help Chrysler meet new federal fuel-efficiency standards.

Quirk said thousands of dealers across the country applied to be initial dealers, and only 122 were ultimately approved. His dealership in Portland is the only Fiat dealership in Maine, New Hampshire or Vermont.

Quirk said that indicates Portland is one of the “leading (automobile) markets in New England.” 

Staff Writer Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be reached at 791-6316 or at [email protected]


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