February 1, 2011
It’s early on a Friday evening, but Ted Knight may be the busiest guy at the St. Louis Auto Show. Representing Lou Fusz’ (rhymes with ‘fuse’) new Fiat franchise, the booth is devoid of Fiats (“We should have a demo in March”), and in lieu of the factory’s professional spokesperson, we have Ted. If you saw photos of the Fiat display at Detroit in 2010, you know that Mr. Knight will never be confused with the factory’s representative – and would never wear her size two dress.
Ted, to his professional credit, is friendly and informative. To the “I’m waiting for an Abarth” kid buying his first new car, Ted doesn’t dissuade him from his dream, although that 500 derivative – a hyper-tuned variant of the economy model – is even further down on the timeline. Instead, he does all the right smiling and nodding, taking the young man’s name and inviting him to visit Fiat of Creve Coeur once the store is up and running.
As a point of reference, at Houston’s auto show, held the same week in late January, featured two 500 variants – Sport and Lounge – along with a semblance of the showroom/studio environment. It had Contemporary seating, a coffee table absolutely perfect for an espresso, and more color samples and swatches than you could shake a cannoli at.
In contrast, Ted has two rectangular tables, four rental chairs and a couple of Fiat posters. In point of fact, the booth looks more like a cake sale (without, of course, the cakes) than a representation of what’s coming. And if the cars aren’t quite here, well, neither is the showroom. It will be soon – it’s at the site of Lou’s former Saturn franchise (you guessed it: Saturn of Creve Coeur). It’s availability, of course, is based on the shuttering of GM’s Saturn franchises.
With Lou Fusz’ inventory of franchises (everything from Mazda to Mitsubishi), management and merchandising should fall readily into place. And in a town that combines an urban vibe with some pretty scenic roadways, a Fiat 500 should prove to be an entertaining commuter. All of that, of course, will have to wait for the cars.
DAVID BOLDT began his automotive career in BMW and Saab showrooms in the 1980s, and he moved to automotive journalism in 1993. David has written for a variety of regional and national publications, and prior to joining AutoTrader, he managed media relations for a Japanese OEM.