Could Chrysler Group LLC be gearing up a new sponsorship push for the Fiat 500?

Turin, Italy-based Fiat S.p.A., which just increased its equity stake in Chrysler from 20 percent to 25 percent, is preparing to relaunch Fiat cars in the U.S. market through the American automaker.

Chrysler this month introduced the Fiat 500 model at Detroit’s North American Int’l Auto Show and plans to start selling the vehicle within the next several months, marking the first time a new Fiat vehicle will be sold in the U.S. since 1982.

The compact car features Italian styling and will compete with other small vehicles, such as the Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris.

Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, speaking at the Detroit show, said the company is using the Fiat 500 to re-establish the Italian nameplate in the U.S. Chrysler expects to sell roughly 60,000 to 65,000 2012 Fiat 500 models, and plans to roll out a convertible edition within the next two years, he said.

Chrysler, which reportedly plans to sell Fiats at roughly 165 Chrysler dealerships in 125 markets, has already started to promote the vehicle on billboards in Chicago and other major metropolitan areas.

Although Chrysler would not comment on marketing plans for the Fiat 500, expectations are that some sponsorship or partnership activity could come soon.
Car marketers remain one of the most active sponsorship categories, and on top of that automakers frequently use sponsorship to introduce new makes and models.

Additionally, Fiat’s marketing activity in Europe may provide insight into potential U.S. sponsorship plans.

In the U.K., Fiat Group Automobiles this month announced a new partnership with the All England Netball Assn. The deal affords title of both the January 15-19 International Netball Series—which culminates with a final match at London’s 02 Arena—as well as the Netball Superleague. The company is using the sponsorship to promote multiple vehicles, including the Fiat 500.

Fiat also sponsors a number of soccer clubs and cycling teams and events throughout Europe and South America. Ties include the Barclays Premier League’s Aston Villa Football Club, based in Birmingham, England; Italian Serie A league’s Juventus Football Club, based in Turin; and Poland’s Tour de Pologne bicycle race.

Laura Soave, head of Fiat Brand, North America, oversees the nameplate’s U.S. marketing activities.