But many in the auto industry, including Fiat's own dealers, lamented the lack of a broad-based marketing strategy with a strong TV component.
Fiat's national TV spot, from Detroit agency Impatto, didn't break until five months after the models were available.
Quickly finding the "soul" of Fiat and distilling its essence in advertising that would connect with American audiences became paramount--before the comeback effort drove into a ditch.
"He has the confidence to make splashy, attention-getting changes, kind of an innate understanding of how to cleverly generate consideration," says Peterson, who adds that Francois likely "salvaged" Fiat's U.S.
Comfy nostalgia and nods to Fiat being a "remake" were jettisoned in favor of big-name stars and mildly risque concepts that would generate earned media attention beyond their paid placements.
Some scoffed at J.Lo tooling around her old Bronx neighborhood in a 500 Cabrio convertible that probably cost less than her earrings, but that advertising--the first under Francois--got big play in late 2011 and catapulted the Fiat name into the public consciousness.
The Fiat Gingo will probably be offered with a choice of three engines.
The other two power units are the proven 1.1lt 55bhp and 1.2lt 8v 60bhp Fiat petrol engines, and all will be twinned with a choice of two transmission systems: a manual 5-speed and the new Dualogic sequential automatic gearbox.
The Gingo, and the new diesel engine, are both going to be built at Fiat's Polish plant, initially alongside the Siecento that it will eventually replace.
It's clear that much hinges for Fiat on this new small car.
Giancarlo Boschetti, seconded from Fiat's truck-making arm Iveco last January to take over as chief executive officer at Fiat Auto, has indicated that his business plan aims to bring the car division's operations back into the black by the end of 2004.
More immediately, for the year ahead, Fiat has planned numerous model launches in South Africa, including the innovative Fiat Multipla.