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West Herr won't be selling Fiats; Chrysler is mum on replacement

Fiat is still coming to the Buffalo market, but not through West Herr Automotive Group.

West Herr has decided against becoming a Fiat dealer, after being among 130 chosen last fall and the only one for Western New York.

"We've already engaged another excellent candidate for your market," said Ralph Kisiel, a spokesman for Chrysler Group LLC, which is aligned with Fiat. He declined to identify the Chrysler dealer, saying the process has not yet been finalized.

"The market is still going to get a Fiat dealer," he said.

West Herr determined that a Fiat dealership would not be a good fit with its used-car dealership on Transit Road in Clarence, due to space constraints, said Annette Smith, a West Herr spokeswoman.

"The continued popularity of market-priced used vehicles has created an ever increasing demand for both used vehicles and facility space at our used-car outlet," Smith said. "Over the last six months, this growth has resulted in nearly full utilization of the facilities at the Clarence location."

West Herr did not have another facility available as an alternative for Fiat, she said.

Who might become Buffalo Niagara's Fiat dealer was not immediately clear.

Larry Schreiber, a Northtown Automotive vice president, said Northtown is evaluating the possibility but has not made a commitment.

"I think the resources Fiat has in Italy are fairly substantial," he said.

Fiat's first products for the U.S. market match up well with vehicles such as the Mini and Smart, Schreiber said. But Northtown is also studying its long-term potential with Fiat, including whether other brands that Fiat is connected to internationally could be sold in the U.S. market.

Jim Hillery, president and managing partner of Transitowne Automotive Group, said his company was aware of West Herr's decision and was looking at its options.

Six other Fiat dealers chosen for New York State, including one in Rochester, are set to open in the next two weeks. A seventh location, in Brooklyn, does not yet have a scheduled opening date.

Fiat is entering the U.S. market with the Fiat 500 subcompact, which is being assembled at a Chrysler plant in Mexico. Fiats have not been sold in the United States since 1984.

Fiat plans to have all its U.S. dealerships open by the end of this year, and some of them are already open. "The new candidate [in the Buffalo area] will obviously be behind a bit," Kisiel said.

Dealers last year applied for the right to sell Fiat. The chosen dealers have been directed to open a stand-alone "studio" for Fiat, with dedicated personnel.

Some dealers are building new showrooms to house Fiat, while others are renovating vacant buildings, such as former car dealerships, for Fiat, Kisiel said.


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