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Fiat chief makes bold forecast for the future

Not the Bravo: Fiat's Golf-size hatch will be renamed for Australia.

Fiat is bullish as it outlines its future model plans for Oz

15 Nov 2006

FIAT plans to introduce one new model every year for the next four years in its quest to increase sales in Australia from 400 this year (or an average of 57 Puntos a month) to beyond 5000 by 2010.

The July launch of the light-sized Punto hatch range, which opens at $19,990 for the 1.4-litre five-door and tops out at $27,990 for the 1.9-litre JTD three-door, was last month supplemented by Fiat’s DuaLogic automated manual transmission, which adds $1500 to the price of the entry-level five-door 1.4-litre petrol and 1.3-litre diesel variants.

But it is the addition of the small Bravo hatch in late 2007, the born-again Fiat 500 pint-sized hatch in early 2008 and a yet-to-appear medium SUV in 2009 that will give Fiat the sales volume it needs to survive in Australia.

According to the Fiat Auto 2007-2010 product plan released last Friday, in between we will see higher-performance Abarth versions of the Punto and 500, plus facelifts for the Punto and Bravo, while a convertible derivative of the 500 and a wagon body style for Bravo will appear around 2010.

The popularity of the reborn 500/Cinquecento – which will be based on the Trepiuno concept – is expected to eclipse that of Punto to account for half of all Fiat sales in Australia.

It will debut at the 2007 Australian International Motor Show in Sydney, a month after its world premiere at next September’s Frankfurt motor show.

Australian Fiat distributor Ateco Automotive is currently working through engine options and specifications for the Stilo-replacing Bravo, which, like the new 500, will echo the Punto’s transmission options by offering manual and DuaLogic automated manual gearboxes – but no conventional auto.

Bravo – a name that will not be used here – is forecast to attract 20 per cent of Fiat sales Down Under. Mazda has objected to Fiat’s use of the Bravo nameplate in Australia because of its association with the B-Series utility.

An alternative model name is yet to be revealed by Fiat and Ateco.

Nor has a name been announced for the 4.5m, five-seven-seat SUV aimed at the likes of Subaru’s new Tribeca, set to replace Multipla and to be based on the Bravo’s C-segment platform dubbed Project 198, which will also underpin Alfa Romeo’s redesigned 149 hatch (to debut globally in 2009) and the sportscar brand’s own (delayed) mid-sized crossover, to appear in 2010.

According to the Fiat Auto document, Alfa will also release a light-sized hot-hatch to rival the successful BMW-built Mini Cooper in 2008, based on the Punto’s B-segment platform and to be positioned below the 147/149 hatch.

36 center imageLeft: Fiat Trepiuno concept.

Conspicuous by their absence from the local Fiat line-up will be the large Croma wagon, the Panda light SUV/hatch and the Sedici crossover wagon – partly because all of them are too expensive to be positioned where Fiat needs them to be in Australia, but mostly because none are deemed to fit the youthful brand image Ateco seeks for Fiat here.

"We want to be pop, not popular," general manager for Fiat cars in Australia David Stone said. "Being cool is a criteria that all Fiat cars must fit in Australia. Take the 500, which is just gorgeous and will sell itself because it’s so instantly recognisable. The 500 will be driven as an icon from the beginning."Fiat Cars president Luca de Meo said the new-generation 500 had the biggest sales and brand-building potential of any forthcoming Fiat model.

"When you look at the cost structure of the product and the price position we are aiming at, considering the (specification) mix we will have on that car, multiplied by the volume, 500 could be a very strong product for us," he said.

"It will still be an accessible car, which was part of the original concept, but if you want to double the price by putting everything on it you will be able to do so, which is the opposite of what all the other European rivals are doing on super-compact cars."Mr de Meo said that despite being large, relatively powerful and available with an automatic transmission, Ateco had gone cold on Croma, which will be heavily facelifted in a bid to increase its market appeal against its large German rivals outside Italy.

"The issue with Croma is the marketing question of which product you want to bring to market at which time and that’s linked to the ability we have to position the car at the right price, so maybe the structure of costs for Croma doesn’t allow us to be very competitive," he said.

"But I think it was good for Fiat to re-enter the market here with Punto, because this car is one of the best minis in the market and this is what Fiat stands for."Similarly, the Polish-built Panda needed to be positioned $3000 lower than the Punto without skimping on safety features for its business case to stack up.

"It’s the same thing – we couldn’t find the right positioning for the product," Mr de Meo admitted. "Even if the market is downsizing, it’s a pretty premature decision to introduce the Panda here because it’s so small and so different. But I believe one day there will be demand for such a small product."The Sedici is not within Fiat’s Australian plans for this decade because of a lack of production capacity to meet European demand – and a lack of resources to launch more than one model every year.

"Every time we introduce a new car it needs to be a kind of event in a way," Mr de Meo said. "You don’t introduce a new product if you don’t have the money to advertise it. You have to do it properly and every model has to be an opportunity to grow the business for dealers."
Fiat what’s coming:
Bravo small hatch Late 2007
500 micro hatch Early 2008
500 Abarth hot-hatch 2008
Punto Abarth hot-hatch 2008
Punto hatch facelift 2008
Mid-size SUV 2009
500 micro convertible 2009
Bravo hatch facelift 2010
Bravo wagon 2010
Alfa Romeo what’s coming:
159 Crosswagon 2007
8C Competizione coupe 2007
Alfa Mini rival 2008
149 small hatch 2009
169 large sedan 2009
159 medium sedan facelift 2009
159 Sportwagon facelift 2009
Brera coupe facelift 2009
Spider convertible facelift 2009
Mid-size SUV 2010

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