Fiat 500 Wants You
Fiat Taps Internet for Customer Input in Finishing the 2008 500
In Europe, Fiat is still alive if struggling, though the company left North America years ago. They are creating a new minicar for the 2008 model year that revives a well-loved old name for the company, the 500, and on May 2, 2006, launched an interactive consumer site promoting the upcoming model, www.fiat500.com. Though the 500 is not coming to the States, we at VehicleVoice and AutoPacific couldn’t resist checking this site out for ourselves, and sharing it with you. The future will only hold more sites along these lines, but for now they are uncommon and exciting.
The 500 itself is not relevant for the U.S. market. Some U.S. buyers may be willing to go smaller as gas gets more expensive, but not likely this small. Still, Fiat’s approach to launching the car and gathering consumer input is innovative and a model other manufacturers can take inspiration from. We find this heavily and truly interactive, user-friendly launch site very intriguing.
This new site has the mission of getting people interested and excited about the new car, as well as gathering and testing the product’s direction. People from everywhere can choose their language, redesign the site’s homepage, enter their own 500 stories in the “500-ology” section, participate in a design contest coordinated with Designboom (an independent industrial design web magazine), and configure their own version in the concept car lab. Once you’ve created a new look for the homepage, or your own wacky car in the Concept Car lab, you can save it for others to use, view, and comment on. If you like someone else’s design for the homepage, you can adopt it as your own. If you almost like someone else’s Concept Car, you can order it up and tweak it yet again to make it your own.
As we write this blog on May 3, initial response is outstanding. The saved Concept Cars and home pages are growing quickly. There were more than 260 Concept Cars in the lab’s gallery. In the 500-ology section, we found nearly forty comments posted, in a variety of languages, most not English. Individual homepage redesigns are slower in being added, but they are there.
Potential Hits and Potential Misses
This approach has the potential to help manufacturers come to market with vehicles far better configured and suited to what buyers want. Much of the information pulled from the 500 experiment could be applicable to other programs, in terms of understanding demographics and consumer desires.
But no idea is without possible pitfalls, and this one is no exception. Bantering about the potential of this site and this approach to consumer involvement at the AutoPacific Industry Analysis office in Southfield, we see great potential for data mining and consumer involvement. But there are also ways to disappoint the consumer in the end.
Launching the interactive site 500 days before buyers can get their hands on the car allows for a terrific initial response and the ability to generate momentum that could be converted to sales. On the other hand, this extremely long lead time also gives potential buyers a chance to get bored with idea and move on. By time the car arrives, there may not be any surprises. It could feel like old hat and ho-hum to some of the most enthusiastic of initial responders.
Though the site gives Fiat the opportunity to figure out ahead of time which body kits, colors, accessories, and options seem to appeal to most buyers and to weed out stuff that flops, some consumers could get the impression they will have this much choice in the showroom. Likely they will not, and that may disappoint some.
Involving consumers in this pre-production phase can help Fiat fine tune the final accessories and options list before going to the showrooms, as well as gather data which could be applied to other programs. For example, if site visitors overwhelming reject one wing over another or trends toward one color scheme over another can be discerned, these are lessons that can apply to other projects. A possible pitfall to an approach like this, though, is that this car is far enough down the line in development that much of its exterior and interior are already set and could not be changed without production delay. Fiat, or any manufacturer trying this approach, may find out consumers don’t like something about the car that they cannot fix. Which leads to the final pitfall: Some consumers may feel that their opinion is being ignored. If, when reviewing the data, a trend is clear and more particularly if it can be discerned from the stuff consumers save to the site, and the trend is ignored, consumers may end up feeling it wasn’t worth their time.