The proposed Fiat dealership will move into the former Nissan showroom. Photo: Tracey Taylor

A new Fiat dealership, planned for the old Nissan space at Shattuck and Ward, expects to be selling cars within the next two months, pending design and planning review. It will be part of a new network of 130 Fiat dealers nationwide, a planned resurgence many years after the Italian automaker pulled out of the U.S. market in 1983.

Fiat bought Chrysler out of government-sponsored bankruptcy in 2009, but it is using the appeal of its small Fiat 500 model as the base for a new American push. The Berkeley dealership will be one of several the Italian manufacturer plans for the Bay Area, according to Shane Lavery, chief financial officer of US Autogroup, which owns the adjacent McKevitt Volvo dealer and will open the Fiat site.

“Berkeley is one of the markets Fiat wanted to be in in the Bay Area,” Lavery said. “Given the size and fuel economy of the car, and its ability to negotiate the traffic and park conveniently, we think there’s a good market for it.” 

The Fiat 500 on the assembly line in Toluca, Mexico, where production for North America is based. Photo: Chrysler Group

Lavery said Fiat will market several models of the 500, but there is a product plan over the next five years to possibly introduce other models from the group’s global range of cars.

“We’re excited by the use of existing auto facilities for this purpose,” said Michael Caplan, economic development manager for the City of Berkeley. He said that auto dealers are the biggest individual generators of sales tax in the city at the moment. “And this is a nice one. [The 500] is small, sexy, fun and cute. It probably has a broader Berkeley appeal because of its fuel efficiency.”

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the manual transmission Fiat 500, with a 1.4 liter engine, does 30 miles per gallon city and 38 highway.

Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...