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Chrysler Australia looks to Beijing – and Fiat

Chinese puzzle: The Dodge Dart is expected to go into production in China as the Fiat Viaggio.

New Fiat Viaggio unveiling might be key to a new era for Italian brands Down Under

Fiat logo28 Mar 2012

By RON HAMMERTON and TERRY MARTIN

UPDATED: 3/04/2012FIAT will unveil a new small car called the Viaggio at the 2012 Beijing motor show later this month, which could provide Chrysler Australia with a means of bringing the all-new Dodge Dart – or a Fiat-badged derivative – Down Under.

Understood to be a rebadged Dart that itself is based on the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, the Viaggio is one of a number of vehicles to be rolled out to the Chinese market by the global Fiat-Chrysler alliance at the show.

There is no confirmation at this stage that the Holden Cruze-sized Viaggio is bound for Australia, however Chrysler Australia will be well represented at the Beijing show and has previously told GoAuto that it is investigating a number of avenues to bring the Dart – slated only for left-hand-drive at this stage, and to be built in the US from May – to Australia, including Chinese production.

The local subsidiary, which from next month will take over distribution of Alfa Romeo and Fiat from Ateco Group, is working with other right-hook countries including the UK and South Africa to secure RHD Dart production.

Overseas reports also suggest the Viaggio might be exported from China to Europe in hatchback form to replace the Fiat Bravo, perhaps opening the door for export to Australia.

Viaggio – Italian for ‘journey’ – will go into production in China from July at a new factory being built by Fiat’s Chinese joint-venture partner, Guangzhou Automobile Group, according to Automotive News.

Fiat SpA has owned a controlling interest in Chrysler Group since the latter plunged into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection during the global financial crisis.

36 center imageLeft: Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne. Below: Alfa Romeo Giulietta.

The companies are now working on a full merger while at the same time pushing ahead with a multitude of model, platform and technology sharing programs, such as the Giulietta/Dart/Viaggio.

The new Dodge Dart was unveiled at the Detroit motor show in January, but so far Chrysler has resisted entreaties to produce the four-cylinder car in right-hand drive for markets such as Australia, where the Dodge brand is set to be represented only by the Journey people-mover once stocks of the Caliber hatch and Nitro compact SUV run out by mid-year.

As GoAuto reported last month, Chrysler Australia has secured a commitment from the factory to reopen the business case for a RHD Dart.

However, the Fiat Viaggio might provide the answer, assuming it can be sourced in RHD and built to a standard suitable for local consumption.

So far, the only production base for the car to surface in overseas reports is the new factory being built by Fiat and Guangzhou in Changsha in the southern Chinese province of Hunan, inland from Hong Kong.

The factory reportedly will have an initial capacity of 140,000 units, but is expected to grow to 250,000. An engine plant is also under construction.

Both Fiat and Chrysler are effectively just starting their push into China, well behind rivals such as Volkswagen, General Motors, Hyundai, Ford and Toyota.

Last year, Fiat sold just 1500 vehicles in China – a market of more than 18 million vehicles – where it tried and failed to grab a toehold in a joint-venture with Nanjing Automotive, which has since been swallowed into Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) – China’s biggest car-maker and major partner of GM and VW.

At Beijing, Mr Marchionne can be expected to announce details of plans to expand Fiat sales in China, reportedly to 300,000 by 2014.

Chinese reports suggest Chrysler will show a special edition of its 300C sedan at Beijing, along with a stretched Jeep Wrangler called the Dragon.

The Viaggio is expected to go on sale in China in the second half of the year.

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