You don't see a lot of Fiats zipping around the streets here, and with good reason -- it's been 27 years since the Italian automaker sold its line in the United States.
That will change in a few weeks when when Fiat of Strongsville opens its doors in the former Strongsville Dodge location, 18100 Pearl Rd., becoming one of 130 new Fiat dealerships in the nation and among only eight in Ohio.
"It's been very well-received," said Ron Davis, general manager of the new dealership. "We've had appointments every day.
Not bad for a business that not expected to open until April 29.
"When we were at the Auto Show, our booth was busy bell to bell," Davis said.
He said people like the fuel economy of the Fiat 500, which gets up to 40 miles per gallon, it's $15,500 base price, its unique look and its nimble performance.
"It's like riding a motorcycle," he said.
Crews are still renovating the dealership to Fiat standards, including imported Italian tile on the floors, a small Internet cafe and "studio" -- Fiat's name for a showroom.
The dealership will open with 20 Fiats in stock, but most customers will design their own on touch-screen computers that let them add features and choose colors to their own specifications, according to Paul Podnar, Fiat specialist.
"It lets you custom build your own Fiat," Podnar said.
With price not negotiable, sales will be low-pressure. Delivery will be a ceremony, with arriving cars sequestered under cover until the new owner gets there.
"Cars have lost their style and panache," Podnar said. "Fiat brings it back."
Fiat, which ruled the early auto racing world, took over controlling interest in Chrysler in 2008. It built its first cars in this country in 1908 and "was winning races before Henry Ford built his first assembly line," Podnar said.
Fiat of Strongsville currently has one car on the lot for test drives. The closest other Fiat dealerships are in Mentor and Toledo.
Davis said the Pearl Road business, which will get a maximum of 150 new Fiats on the lot in 2011, will continue to sell used cars -- and service vehicles of all makes -- after Fiat opens.