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Future Fiats: Panda (above) and Sedici (below).

Panda micro-hatch could be the next Fiat here as Ateco looks for more Aussie models

23 Jun 2006

FIAT has confirmed that it is set to introduce two more model lines in Australia by the end of 2007, supporting the Punto light/small-car range from below as well as above.

The first is expected to be the Panda(above), a boxy but stylish five-door hatchback mini that competes with the likes of the Hyundai Getz and Holden Barina in Europe.

Named the 2004 European car of the year, the Panda is sold in other countries such as Malaysia and Japan and is offered with either front-wheel drive or 4WD (although there is only a slim chance that we will see the latter).

To keep costs down, Fiat assembles the Panda in Poland, although another cheap labour manufacturing site such as Russia is also understood to be in the pipeline.

Importer Ateco Automotive told GoAuto this week that it would only introduce the Panda if it could maintain all the standard safety kit set by the Punto.

This means six airbags and ABS with electronic brake-force distribution.

Engine choices will be limited to the 45kW/101Nm 1.2-litre petrol and 52kW/145Nm 1.3-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engines. The latter is a detuned version of the Punto’s 66kW/200Nm 1.3 turbo-diesel unit.

If the Panda is given the go-ahead, Fiat will have to bank on around 120 sales a month for the project to be viable. “We will know in about four weeks whether the Panda is a definite for Australia,” said Fiat cars general manager David Stone. Pending a green light, the Panda is set for a first quarter 2007 launch, probably priced from about $16,000 to $25,000.

Virtually a certainty is the arrival of a Fiat to take on Volkswagen Golf range wholesale. Based on an all-new and still-secret design, this car – known only as the Stilo replacement – will have to be larger and far more stylish if it is going to succeed in one of the toughest classes.

Today’s Stilo – released in Europe during 2001 – failed to sell in sufficient numbers right from the beginning, and is a key factor in Fiat’s long-running financial woes.

It is available in three- and five-door hatchback and four-door wagon guises, with a 1.8-litre four-cylinder and 2.5-litre five-cylinder petrol, as well as 1.9-litre turbo-diesel engine, available.

Abarth versions of the Stilo replacement, along with the Punto, are also believed to be in development, as Fiat wants to tackle the successful Golf GTI and Polo GTI products head-to-head with its in-house sports/tuning division.

Ateco Australia has also put its hand up for two niche Fiat vehicles, although only one has a good chance of appearing. This is the Trepiuno Concept-based Cinquecento/500, a premium three-door hatchback mini car that will be built in Poland alongside, and using a platform and mechanicals derived from, the current Panda.

Around 240,000 units are envisaged for production annually from late 2007/early 2008, split between Fiat and its fraternal twin, the next-generation Ford Ka.

36 center imageLess likely for Australia is the Sedici (‘16’ in Italian), a 4WD (hence the name) wagon rebranded from the Suzuki SX4, which is itself spun off the Swift light-car platform. Currently, demand is strong and supply from the sole Hungarian plant is limited, while Suzuki holds the rights for the SX4 for Australia.

It is unlikely that the replacement for the innovative but stylistically divisive Multipla compact people mover will make it locally. The current car has been around since the late 1990s, and is due for a replacement soon.

Also rejected for Australia is the Croma, a wagon/people mover crossover based on the Opel/Holden Vectra platform-derived Signum hatchback.

What's coming from Fiat:

Punto auto - August
Panda - March 2007
Sedici - Mid-2007
Stilo replacement - October 2007
Punto Abarth - 2008
Stilo Abarth - 2008
500 - 2008

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