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June 29th, 2009
Fiat 500 Abarth

Fiat 500 Abarth

One of the outcomes for which I was hoping from the Fiat takeover of Chrysler has now been confirmed!  The Fiat 500 will be coming to the U.S. (as reported by autobloggreen).  I’d love to park that in my garage, alongside the Alfa Romeo Mi.To.  …Of course, I don’t actually have the Alfa in my garage, since it isn’t sold here.  …Which is the case with a lot of the most eye-pleasing, sporty small cars from across the pond.  Why is this?  Why has the North American market been so focused on large SUVs and trucks, while the ultra-compact car segment has been relegated largely to a few featureless, ill-handling, snore-inducing models?

Alfa Romeo Mi.To

Alfa Romeo Mi.To

A large part of the answer is the difference in the price we pay at the pump, as well as different tax systems that penalize larger cars in Europe.  But another reason is the differences in our cultures.  We Americans need large 7-passenger vehicles with acres of storage space to transport our large broods and our gear from our estates in the suburbs to our offices, private schools, and shopping malls spread far and wide, don’t we?  …Cynism aside, this isn’t necessarily untrue.  (My wife and I purchased a 7-passenger crossover when we realized the infant-seat for our second child would not fit in our Audi A4 and still allow room for a front-seat passenger!)

So, perhaps our large, inefficient cars aren’t the problem – they’re just the symptom of a larger problem – our sprawling, poorly-designed cities, which have led us to our car monoculture (as described by Dan Sperling and Deborah Gordon in their book Two Billion Cars).  And as big of an undertaking as it will be to transition our vehicle fleet to an efficient one based on low-carbon energy sources, it could be a much more difficult task to transform our cities to the type of mixed-use places that solve our mobility issue, at least in the way that Rocky Mountain Institute’s Amory Lovins suggests when he says the ultimate mode of transport is being there already.

So, I’m quite excited for the Fiat 500 – the Abarth version, of course!  (This is the car that made Top Gear‘s Jeremy Clarkson quite giddy!  …Top Gear = best show ever, by the way…)  But I wonder – will it sell in America?  Or do we just have too far to drive, and too much stuff to bring with us?

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