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Fiat eyes range expansion in Australia

Australian Panda: The new-look Fiat Panda light-car is believed to be one of the European models in with a chance of coming here – if the price is right.

Substantial growth on the cards as Fiat Australia seeks models to import

12 Jul 2012

FIAT Chrysler Group Australia will look to the strategy of fellow European importer Volkswagen as it prepares to embark on an ambitious expansion of the Fiat model range, according to product strategy general manager Alex Tam.

The Italian company is a niche player in Australia, with a model line-up comprised solely of the retro 500 and its Abarth performance derivative, but Mr Tam told GoAuto this week the company hoped to introduce cars like the Panda, Punto and Doblo van from next year.

“We don’t want Fiat as a niche player,” he said. “Volkswagen is the main European player that we’ll be targeting. That is in our plan right now.

“We are going to put forward a number of plans that we have in place, and we are hopeful that in fact by next year we will be bringing a number of these vehicles into this marketplace.” Mr Tam said the Fiat Chrysler Group did not necessarily seek to match the sales numbers of the German giant, which offers a far broader global portfolio for its local subsidiary to select from, but rather sought to follow its lead in expanding the range while keeping prices competitive with product from non-European brands.

“Under the Fiat brand there is obviously many products on which we undertake studies to look at how we can expand on the Fiat brand beyond the current one model range,” he said.

 center imageFrom top: Fiat Freemont Punto Doblo van 500X.

“Again we look upon UK as our main market where we source product from, and right now in the UK there is product like the Punto five-door hatch and the Panda – which we are seriously looking at right now ...

“I’ll be in Europe in two weeks’ time, and I’ll look at all products which are available in the worldwide range. Something even like a Doblo van, I have a lot of feedback from dealers saying ‘if you bring in that car, there will be a market for it’.” “But it comes down to pricing ... whilst we think that the market is huge, every car has to fit into a certain space that we define.” The Fiat Punto hatchback, which was previously sold in Australia until 2010 by former distributor Ateco but discontinued due to the lack of an automatic transmission, appears to be the best candidate for big volume growth, sitting as it does within the small-car segment which this year accounts for 23 per cent of the entire new-vehicle market.

“I always believe that there is room for an additional players, and to be successful you need to have a Punto, a conventional five-door hatch,” said Mr Tam.

The spanner in the works, aside from the potential cost penalty of sourcing the car from Europe, could be the Punto’s age, considering the current Punto is only a facelifted version of a model that dates back to 2005 and is not scheduled to be replaced globally until about 2014.

Another option for Fiat in the small-car segment is the Chinese-built Viaggio sedan – a version of the Dodge Dart which is itself based on the Alfa Romeo Giulietta.

While the car is not confirmed for left-hand-drive production, Fiat Chrysler Australia is lobbying for RHD production alongside markets such as the UK.

The all-new Panda light-car first appeared at the Frankfurt motor show in September last year, and is powered by the same 63kW TwinAir two-cylinder engine that powers the 500 in Australia and which won the 2011 International Engine of the Year award.

The current Doblo is a light-sized van in the mould of the Renault Kangoo, Citroen Berlingo and Volkswagen Caddy, and would join the existing Australian Fiat Commercial line-up alongside the Ducato and Scudo.

Also on the cards is the 500X, a small crossover SUV that was teased last week ahead of its likely debut at the Paris motor show in September this year and which Mr Tam said would fit perfectly into the model range on the local market.

“If you want to be a serious player in the marketplace, you’ve got to have an SUV-type vehicle, and 500X would fill that gap, especially here where the SUV segment is booming. We want to be part of it,” he said.

Despite the strong interest in these models, the only new addition formally confirmed for the Fiat range is the Freemont people-mover, which is a re-badged version of the Mexican-built Dodge Journey and which should arrive in Australia around the first quarter of 2013.

However, while the addition of the Freemont had been expected to spell the end of the historic Dodge brand Down Under, Chrysler Jeep Dodge sales general manager Veronica Johns told GoAuto that the twin models might be sold simultaneously, at least for a time.

“We will spec it a bit differently to the Dodge Journey and they should be able to sell side by side,” she said. We will continue with Dodge for as long as we can,” “If Journey goes, that would the end for Dodge (Australia), so we’ll keep going with it for as long as we can it’s such a lovely brand.” With the projected growth in sales will come an expansion of the existing dealer network, according to Ms Johns, with several existing Chrysler Jeep Dodge dealers understood to be keen on adding Fiat Alfa Romeo outlets to their sites.

“The Fiat and Alfa at the moment is very small, and obviously with the volume we’re looking at chasing with them we will need to increase that dealer network,” she said.

“We did a presentation to the Chrysler network about a month ago, we sent out expressions of interest and we’ve had quite few Chrysler Jeep Dodge dealers put up their hands for it.”

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