Two area Chrysler dealers said they are not surprised that this part of the state was overlooked in the initial launch of the Fiat brand in the United States. But they said they remain interested in adding the brand to their dealerships.
This summer, Chrysler Group, which is 20 percent owned by the Italian automaker, said it would invite its dealers to become Fiat dealers.
This week Chrysler announced the 132 dealers that were awarded Fiat dealerships. Nearly all of them are in cities much larger than Wichita.
Only one Kansas dealer was among them: Olathe Dodge Chrysler Jeep.
"It's all a numbers game for these guys," said John Culver, owner of Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep dealership Parks Motors in Augusta. "They looked at the market for compacts and subcompacts, and the numbers just weren't there."
"We're a truck market, big cars, that sort of thing."
But, Culver added, that doesn't mean Fiat won't come to Wichita in the future.
He said there's "no question" that Parks Motors would be interested in adding Fiat.
Sean Tarbell, general sales manager for Davis-Moore Auto Group, would, too.
But Tarbell added that the requirements for the first wave of Fiat dealers — to have a separate sales and service facility for Fiats and a dedicated sales staff — made it a risk for dealers such as Davis-Moore to invest that much money into a brand that, as of right now, has only two models in its lineup for the U.S. market: the 500, which it will roll out first, followed by the 500 Cabrio.
"I can't say we were disappointed" by missing selection as an inaugural Fiat dealer, Tarbell said. "It sure doesn't look like it would be a viable store at this point."
Culver said he also has reservations.
He questions investing in a Fiat dealership when there are plans to integrate some of Fiat into the Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep lines.
Chrysler has said that it plans, by 2014, to have nearly 60 percent of its sales and contract production derived from Fiat-originated platforms.
Fiat will have some big hurdles to clear re-entering the U.S. market, based on Fiat's reputation from when it was here more than two decades ago.
The company stopped selling cars in the U.S. in 1983 after it was plagued with quality problems, giving rise to its nickname, "Fix It Again, Tony."
Fiat left, said Edmunds.com senior analyst Karl Brauer, because it made "unreliable and poorly built" cars that it could no longer sell in the U.S.
There are indications that the Fiat of today is not the Fiat of old. But it could take years, just like it did Hyundai, to change Americans' perception of the brand, Brauer said.
Davis-Moore's Tarbell said his dealership would be interested in a Fiat dealership "if that car (the 500) took off in the U.S. and really was doing well in those larger markets like Kansas City."