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Fiat demonstrates (for us prudes) how to sell cars, the Italian way

Thu, 06 Dec 2012

Italians are nothing if not imbued with salaciousness. At the Los Angeles Auto Show last week, Fiat leapt upon this fact with a seemingly undiscovered gusto, like a high-school kid who just had his first beer and is—as we speak—rushing to his friends to tell them all about it. You can watch the thing here in its entirety. Provided of course, that Chrylser's grim-jawed lawyers don't put the kibosh on the copyright-protected part and that you don't start immediately bleeding out of one nostril at around the 16:40 mark.

“Over 20 minutes?” you may ask. “Who's got time for that, in our ADD-riddled society where anything that takes longer than the time to heat a Pop-Tart is an undertaking of Dostoyevskian proportions?” Well then, allow us to summarize.

“It's a car that arouses without a prescription,” said impossibly well-coiffed Fiat CEO Olivier Francois without a shred of irony about the 500c Abarth, a topless version of the hatchback 500 Abarth. He used the word “topless” about 60 times. Of the electric 500e, Francois said, “its charge will last longer than four hours,” while standing in front of a backdrop displaying a stock photo of a hand holding a blue pill. A few titters echoed through the audience of mostly male journalists, but they were not yet as enthusiastic as they would when Francois informed us that Fiat spokesmodel Catrinel Menghia had descended dal cielo to join us. Some leered. A few whipped out their camera phones.

After that rousing interruption we were treated to a television ad where a sexy Italian female makes out with a toned, shirtless male—who was also presumably Italian—on a test track. “Promote Global Hotness,” says the tagline for the 500e, an “environmentally sexy” car that is supposed to capture the joie de vivre of Italian motoring but also looks like a tangerine with a milk mustache.

There's more. The Fiat marketing team—who as you'll recall, recently hired Charlie Sheen—bombarded those in attendance with a number of entertaining ads depicting 500L owners as seductive cougars, libidinous grandpas, and pre-teen boys grinning under a pile of lingerie. Don't expect Honda to follow suit. The campaign is cute, and Fiat's marketing has come a long way since J.Lo was bouncing around fake Bronx streets, shouting lyrics of female empowerment. Now it seems that the Abarth is for your libido. The mini-minivan 500L is for when all that sexiness goes too far and results in actual procreation—an inevitability that caddish Abarth-driving men probably don't want to think about.

The sexual metaphors were unnerving because in one press conference, Fiat hijacked all of our story headlines. “Fiat Abarth Goes Topless: It Arouses Without a Prescription!” Those jerks. Do you know how long it takes to come up with a decent headline? “Fiat Abarth, Uh, Revealed in Los Angeles”?

Hell, if any non-Italian had scripted Signore Francois's speech it could very well have been considered offensive—as if the intention was to mock and insult Italy, Fiat S.p.A, Sergio Marchionne, Vittorio Emanuele II, and just about everyone else in between. But Fiat's presser has lead us to believe that sex is "what the Italians do," and it is also the only means by which they can sell tall wagons and electric cars. Just as Yakov Smirnoff was an avatar for all of Soviet Russia's hopes and dreams, here supposedly, is the very essence of Italian culture, philosophy, and attitude on life and love, distilled into a few sarcastic lines about a Pfizer product. We wish Fiat well.

Rumors that Fiat's marketing team consists of 12 repressed schoolboys and a dog-eared copy of Oui Magazine are still unsubstantiated.

By Blake Z. Rong