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Fiat  Cost-effective: The recently facelifted Stilo Abarth needs to be competitively priced.

Cost-effective: The recently facelifted Stilo Abarth needs to be competitively priced.

New models and the Euro will decide Fiat’s future Down Under

THE future of Fiat passenger cars in Australia looks grim, if comments by the man who holds the local distribution rights for the Italian brand are any guide.

Asked at the recent Alfa Romeo GT launch what the likely timeframe for the return of passenger car sales here was, Ateco Automotive governing director Neville Crichton said: "I’m not prepared to comment. I don’t know."

Reminded that 2006 was Ateco’s most recent estimate for the relaunch of Fiat here, Mr Crichton said: "Yeah, I’d like to think it would be earlier than that but I guess we’ve got to see where Fiat’s going too. I mean it costs us a fortune to launch a new brand ... and to suddenly find someone else owns Fiat.

"At this stage Fiat passenger cars aren’t coming but as the new models come on stream we will evaluate it. We’re being cautious."

At present the Ducato two-tonne van, 500 of which are expected to be sold this year, is the only Fiat product currently imported by Ateco.

And despite a raft of new and forthcoming models from the financially troubled Italian brand, the Australian dollar’s weak conversion rate with the Euro could see it stay that way.

According to Ateco spokesman Edward Rowe, the Euro dollar has to be around 68 Australian cents to both launch Fiat in Australia and to make it competitive with brands like Ateco’s own Alfa Romeo. It is currently around the 55 to 56 Australian cent mark.

Specifically, if imported, the recently facelifted Stilo Abarth, for example, must undercut Alfa’s 147 entry model, as it does in New Zealand. A new Punto Abarth and the Trepiuno Abarth are also being considered and two of these models have already undergone expensive modification programs to meet Australia’s stringent design rules estimated at $500,000 per model.

It is believed Ateco has developed a bolt-in child restraint system, the final hurdle in ADR homologation of the new models, as a back-up if new international vehicle standards (that are expected to harmonise with ADRs and should certify Fiat models’ Isofix child restraint system) developed by UN-sanction group Working Party 29 fail to materialise.

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