An “utter shambles” was how one guest described the Fiat 500 UK launch event at the London Eye on Monday evening. Members of the press and invited guests all huddled outside in the cold and rain while a host of celebrities were ushered into the elaborate car launch for Britain’s first taste of Fiat’s new ‘people’s car’.
On the road outside, we spoke to a number of Fiat customers who told us they had been invited along by their local dealership - and had booked central London hotels for the night – but that it now looked unlikely they would get in. It’s an ominous sign from Fiat’s often-criticised UK dealer network, which the company claims has recently radically improved its customer service.
Once the scrum had been sorted out, things started to run more smoothly. The 500 launched inside one of the Eye’s capsules on the stroke of 8pm – exactly 500 hours into 2008.
Meanwhile I found a bar full of champagne-slurping Italians, England rugby legend Lawrence Dallaglio, super model Eva Herzigova, ex-F1 boss Eddie Jordan and Kelly Osbourne – who said she was only there to get a free car. Soft rockers The Feeling and squealing pop star Mika played outside to an audience of invitees at the foot of the Eye. And in the end it did all look as spectacular and glamorous as Fiat’s team will have hoped for.
But although those of us who got in were treated to a free concert, the whole event reeked of celebrity-endorsement overkill. We’re very positive about the new 500 here at Autocar - of course it will become the stylish, I-must-have-one-now fashionable motor of the moment. Deservedly so. Because it feels so good to drive and look at.
But we’re still getting negative letters about Fiat dealerships, often from people who had wanted to buy a 500 and now don’t. And that certainly doesn’t bode well for owning one.
So perhaps the money to throw last night’s bash should have been spent making genuine improvements to Fiat’s customer service? For a start they could stop sending their newest customers to stand in the rain at night outside a party in central London.