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Renier Building Crown Fiat Dealership

After a two-year wait, Crown Dealership Group has a home for its Fiat showroom.

The auto retailer was among the first awarded a Fiat badge for the European brand’s return to the U.S. in 2011, but it wasn’t until last week when work revved up on a showroom of its own. Construction on Crown Fiat is now under way at 5105 Post Road in Dublin, with a Dec. 1 opening targeted.

“I found this spot two years ago and it seemed perfect,” Crown President Marc Wigler said.

Crown has roots deepening in Dublin. Its Crown Mercedes-Benz dealership opened on Perimeter Loop Road in 1991. The Chrysler and Jeep lines were added in 1993. Kia joined in 2001 and Dodge moved to the Dublin site in 2009. In all, Crown holds 36 franchises and dealerships in three states. Crown Fiat will be its second dealership for the Italian car line, joining one in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Driving expectations

Crown Fiat also will become the second dealership in Central Ohio selling the subcompacts. Bob-Boyd Fiat opened last year at 5665 Scarborough Blvd., Columbus.

The wait may have been helpful. Fiat arrived in the U.S. in March 2011 but its dealership network was slow to develop, cars were in short supply and national marketing didn’t start until August, said analyst Kristen Andersson.

The auto line has gained traction this year, however. Sales for the first seven months of 2012 rose to 24,416 cars, topping the 19,769 Fiats sold last year. Sales soared 22 percent in July to 3,710 from 3,038 a year earlier.

“It’s certainly making waves this year,” Andersson said. “The buyer interest is definitely there.”

Faith in the business

Fiat counted about 150 U.S. dealers as of March and is projected to have 200 by 2013.

Sales also should rise with an expansion of Fiat’s car lineup. Dealerships now sell the flagship Fiat 500, the 500c convertible and the sporty 500 Abarth. An electric car and a larger five-door Fiat 500 are in the works.

Wigler hopes to sell 25 Fiats a month, although the automaker’s expectations are changing and it does not have updated projections.

Wigler expects to sell about 500 Fiats a year by 2014.

“We have faith in (Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne),” he said. “Fiat is his baby.”

The dealership also hopes to be in line for Alfa Romeo, Fiat’s sports car badge, if it is imported to the U.S.

“We’re hoping to get Alfa,” Wigler said. “We think this will be a good market for that.”

Small car, big store

The Post Road building was filled by Roby Mitsubishi but has been vacant for nearly five years. In its previous life it was a Chi-Chi’s restaurant. The site sits across the street from Midwestern Auto Group LLC’s BMW and Mini dealership.

“Buyers looking for that small, European model are already coming here,” Wigler said, although he noted the BMW-Mini showroom is scheduled to relocate to MAG’s Perimeter Loop complex next year.

Crown is spending more than $1 million in an extensive remodeling of the 10,000-square-foot building and its 2.5-acre grounds. There isn’t much that will remain untouched.

Bill Heifner, president of Renier Construction Corp. in Columbus, said only part of the roof, exterior walls and one interior office are staying.

The 6,300-square-foot showroom will have enough floor space to display as many as 10 Fiats, and will include tech kiosks that allow customers to design their own car.

“The car is fun,” Wigler said. “We want to show that.”

Andersson said Fiat appeals to women buyers and may be able to draw Volkswagen Beetle shoppers turned off by the car’s redesign.

The building will get a 2,000-square-foot addition for an enclosed service drive and have a six-bay service center that will handle oil changes. More involved repairs will be made at Crown’s Perimeter Loop complex.

The building also is getting a second story for parts and service bay space.

“Right now, if you put in a lift with the car on it, it’d punch through the ceiling,” Heifner said.

Renier specializes in auto dealership construction. The Fiat project is the sixth handled by the contractor for Crown since 2002, including construction of Crown Chrysler Dodge Jeep in 2002 and the makeover of the Crown Mercedes dealership at 6500 Perimeter Loop in 2010.

Heifner said it is the first Fiat dealership for Renier.

Architectural Alliance Ltd. from Columbus designed the space.

Renier Building Crown Fiat Dealership

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Posted in: Automotive