North American readers over a certain age may recall a time when Fiats were available at local auto dealers. Even though some people joked about their reliability at the time (“What does FIAT stand for? Fix It Again, Tony!”), the chic, zippy little Italian cars definitely had their admirers. Unfortunately, after the 1970’s oil crisis subsided, small cars weren’t so popular anymore, and what market remained was heavily dominated by Japanese automakers. Thus it was that in 1984, Fiat decided to stop selling cars in North America. Flash-forward to fuel-conscious 2010, and Fiat is now the sixth-largest car company in the world, and owner of the US-based Chrysler Group. This week, it was announced that separate and distinct Fiat dealerships will be selling the company's compact 500 model in the United States.

Fiat will be approaching dealerships in about 125 markets, located in up to 41 states, where growth for the small car market has been identified. Dealers will receive application guidelines and proposal deadlines this month, which they must complete and send in if they wish to be considered as a Fiat dealer. Preference will be given to high-performing Chrysler Group dealerships, but any dealer that meets Fiat’s checklist is reportedly welcome to apply. The company will be looking at factors such as sales performance, proposed facilities, customer handling metrics, and financial resources.

Once Fiat makes its choices, separate facilities with separate sales and service staff will have to be established in each location.

The 500 should be available to US buyers late this year, with the 500 Cabrio following in 2011. Chrysler will be developing the electric version of the 500 for the North American market, starting in 2012. At this point, there is no word on whether other models will eventually be available, or if dealerships will also be set up in Canada or Australia - two other countries Fiat left in the 80s.

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