I’ve just witnessed the launch of the new Fiat 500. I know what you’re thinking; didn’t our man Will Powell do that a few weeks ago? Well, yes and no. Will was at the London launch; I was at the Japanese launch of the car, which went off at Tokyo’s Italian Institute of Culture, in Chiyoda, earlier today.
In textbook Japanese style, Fiat Japan rolled out the new 500, the girls clad in traditional wafuku kimonos (see above), even the cherry blossom – and Tokyo’s motoring press turned up in numbers. They invited 500; more than 1000 actually arrived, many of whom had to be refused access to the Institute’s Umberto Agnelli auditorium.
The 500 is big deal for Fiat Japan. The firm’s distribution outfit is a fairly small one in comparison with Fiat UK. It sells 6000 cars a year right now, whereas Fiat UK turns around probably six times as many. The 500 is a car, it’s hoping, that can effectively double its sales, up beyond the 10,000 cars mark for 2008, and beyond that for 2009.
And driving around this city, it’s easy to see why. Contrary to what you may expect, Tokyo’s is actually quite a staid, unimaginative automotive landscape – but it’s also a uniquely postmodern one. Here, half the cars you see are what look like 30-year-old Nissan Cedric and Toyota Crown cabs; in fact, these Datsun-Cherry-a-likes are still made by Japan's domestic car-makers exclusively for service as cabs.