Austin Fiat dealer celebrates record sales, plans expansion

Breaking the record for selling more than 100 Fiat 500 cars in one month never crossed Lisa Copeland's mind when the Austin dealership opened in March 2011 at The Domain.

"It's been one of those things—who'd a thunk it?" said Copeland, the general manager for the Austin dealership. "It's been amazing the way that the city of Austin, just people in Central Texas, have embraced the Fiat 500."

In April, the Austin dealership sold 110 Fiat 500s, setting the North American sales record for the model. Copeland said the dealership has sold 450 Fiat 500 vehicles to date in 2012 and about 850 since it opened. Initial market projections had anticipated just 300 car sales per year, she said.

Chrysler Group LLC CEO Sergio Marchionne—Italy-based Fiat Group SpA owns the majority share of Chrysler—congratulated Copeland, her team and Nyle Maxwell of the Nyle Maxwell Family of Dealerships, which owns Fiat of Austin, on June 4 when Marchionne stopped in Austin. He said the Austin dealership might even be the first in the world to reach 100 sales in one month. In March, the dealership fell shy of the goal by one car.

"[Copeland] is an incredible salesperson, an excellent manager and a dynamic leader, and what she and her team have achieved here at Fiat is unprecedented," Marchionne said.

Marchionne's visit to Austin was the result of Copeland winning a bet with Tim Kuniskis, head of Fiat Brand North America. He bet Copeland that if she sold more than 100 cars in one month, he would find a way to introduce her to a celebrity of her choice. Kuniskis had banked on Copeland choosing someone such as George Clooney, but he was surprised that she chose Marchionne.

Marchionne said Copeland and her team have helped push the brand to No. 1 in Austin among small cars, beating Mini sales for the past six months.

"When a journalist asked me what my target for the 500 was in North America, I told him I just wanted to sell one more car than Mini does," Marchionne said.

Copeland said Fiat's success in Austin has been about the right car at the right time, featuring not only great gas mileage and value, but also Italian style. She credits her team for helping Austin to achieve the milestone.

"I think people are tired of commodity-based purchases when it comes to cars," she said. "Fiat of Austin, my team, we have built a story around the Fiat brand, bringing the brand back to America from its Italian roots."

Fiat of Austin is located at The Domain at 11011 Domain Drive, Ste. 124. The dealership is 6,000 square feet in size and features a runway where customers can show off their new vehicles.

Two months ago, the Austin dealership launched the new Abarth, the high-performance version of the Fiat 500 featuring a 160-horsepower turbocharged engine. Copeland said Austin is already sold out of the model through August.

Fiat of Austin is also expanding its sales presence by adding 3,000 square feet of space next door in the former Metrodog dog boutique location at 11011 Domain Drive, Ste. 116. Copeland said the new space will accommodate more sales for preowned Fiats and will open July 1.

Further down the road, she said Fiat is planning to build another larger facility in the north Austin area.

Maxwell said Marchionne's vision of the business is second to none and that he saw value in the brand to help turn Fiat around.

"When you work in this fascinating business of ours, the car business, you know that success of your company goes hand-in-hand with the success of the manufacturer you're representing," Maxwell said. "You know how important it is for the manufacturer to get all the right pieces plugged into the right picture."

By Amy Denney

Managing Editor, Austin metro

Amy has worked for Community Impact Newspaper since September 2010, serving as reporter and senior editor for the Northwest Austin edition as well as covering transportation in the Austin metro. She is now managing editor for the 10 publications in the Central Texas area from Georgetown to New Braunfels. She enjoys spending time with her husband, son and two cats.