If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it


The Fiat 500 is a phenomenal sales success, but what’s the secret of this little car? How has it done so well for an entire decade? Quite simply, as Not £2 Grand’s Chris Pollitt explains, by not changing.

A modern car is like a mobile phone. By that, I mean it’s pretty much outdated before you’ve even left the showroom. Manufacturers are hell-bent on updating, reinventing and renaming cars with a level of apparent indecision that would rival a toddler being told to pick five things from a sweet shop. And why? To stay modern? To stay fresh? It’s daft. Why not let your product breathe. Let people get used to it and aspire to it. Don’t go changing it before the consumer has even had a chance to see it in the first place.

58-plate Fiat 500

Happily, Fiat doesn’t subtribe to the above train of thought. The Fiat 500 of today is, bar trim, wheel and lighting changes, the same car we could buy back in 2009. Fiat hasn’t tampered with it or given it a needless facelift which in turn only serves to make a car the wheeled equivalent of making your gran dress in a jumpsuit from Top Shop. It’s taken stock of what the buyers like, and it’s left it well alone. And it has worked.

Some might argue the 500 is a tad too ubiquitous, but that’s a matter of opinion. A matter of fact is that Fiat has been selling them like cakes that are hot for a decade. They’ve been very clever with it. Yes, the 500 is an old design, but therein lies the charm. The retro-chic look of the thing is what makes it popular, as such, used and new buyers alike are getting what they want. Then there’s the shrewd marketing. The 500 has always been branded as a car you can personalise. Go into a Fiat dealer and ask to see the options for the 500. They’ll need a forklift truck to bring in the book. Body graphics, bespoke key covers, wheels, chrome bits, it’s all small, ineffectual stuff to the car’s core, but it allows the customer to make their popular car truly theirs and truly unique. But the customer does all the choosing and the dealer does all the work. The Fiat factory has to do nothing other than make the car.

Fiat 500 interior

Then there are the limited editions. The Pop, the Lounge, the Anniversario, the 60th, 500 by Diesel, the Pink, the Blackjack, the Sport, the Street, the… you get the idea. There were a lot of limited editions. And again, they came at no cost to the core construction of the car. Fiat just had to order some new wheels and some different paint and badges. Simple.

The Fiat 500 has been such a monumental success because Fiat hasn’t changed it. Why spend millions on development of a new model when in reality, you don’t need to? If people are buying your product and buying it lots, you don’t go changing it. Add to the range, trade the original item’s popularity (looking at you, 500L), fit legally required upgrades like daytime running lights, yes, by all means. But don’t go changing the core product.

Of course, it helps that Fiat got it so right from the off. There’s no escaping that. But that’s fine, and that where a manufacturer should put all its effort. Plus, it further pays off in the long run, as demonstrated by the fact the 500 is now a veritable bargain. Those who can’t afford a new one can buy an older model and be part of the ‘new reg’ set by proxy. And then, when their circumstances improve, they’ll come and buy a brand new one. They’re brand fans by this point.

The 500 represents the most savvy and intelligent approach to car production in recent years, and like the car or not, you have to applaud it for that. Fiat has proven with aplomb that if it ain’t broken, you shouldn’t go fixing it.

Fiat 500 old and new