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driving it home

2014 Fiat 500L Lounge and 2014 Fiat 500L Trekking

I am starting to see Fiat 500s dotting the urban landscape in numbers that I did not expect to see in Canada.

Surprise, surprise – in 2012, Chrysler Canada's Fiat brand sold 8,474 500 coupes and cabriolets. Fiat's sales in Canada were up a pretty impressive 57.2 per cent over 2011, reports DesRosiers Automotive Consultants. Last year Canadians bought about 500 Fiat 500s a month. Not bad at all for a brand that sells only minicars.

That is about to change, however. Later this week in Globe Drive I am writing about a new wave of teeny, tiny small crossover/SUVs such as the 2013 Buick Encore and 2013 Chevrolet Trax. Both are small and arguably smart urban transport.

That's where Fiat and its 500 come into the picture. Within the next 18 months or less, Fiat will get into this game with the 500L high roof hatchback, followed by the 500X small crossover (due in 2014). As reports, Fiat plans to expand the 500 city car lineup in a way that "establishes it as a brand within a brand."

According to just-auto, the 500 will be to Fiat what Mini is to BMW, says brand chief Gianluca Italia. Other 500 models, we're told, will include the 500 Trekking. This one is a two-wheel-drive crossover rig.

"We are looking at a full family of vehicles. We know that the 500 is often bought by parents for their children but the loyalty to the car is low, around 60 per cent of drivers move onto something bigger. We want to be able to offer them an extended 500 range," Italia told the online publication.

The 500 has done quite nicely in Canada, but in Europe it's really hot. According to just-auto, the 500 and the Panda account for some 35 per cent of sales in Europe's A-segment of ultra-small. The 500L has five doors (including the rear hatchback) and will seat five when it hits showrooms later this year. That puts it in the subcompact or B-segment.

An expanded range of 500s could quite easily add up to annual sales of 20,000-plus in Canada. I was prepared to see Fiat go bust in Canada, given the brand's weak quality reputation. Now I'm not so sure. Fiat has a plan for the 500 and it just might bear fruit, surprising the skeptics like me.