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Fiat Panda is go for Oz

Grin and bear it: Fiat’s Panda will finally arrive in Australia in late 2013 as a part of Fiat’s massive product influx that also includes the return of the Punto.

Freemont, Panda and Grande Punto to lead Fiat product offensive in Australia

15 Feb 2013

FIAT’S Panda city car and Punto light hatchback will headline the Italian brand’s product onslaught in Australia, with at least 11 new models or variants being prepared for launch over the next two years.

The quirky Panda has been rumoured to be a starter in Australia for some time, but an agreement with former distributor Ateco prevented Fiat Chrysler from announcing any future product strategies or pricing realignment until February 1 this year.

Fiat’s announcement of the future direction of the brand and restructured pricing comes after months of planning after the change in distributorship from Ateco to a factory-backed operation in May last year.

Fiat Chrysler product strategy director Alex Tam said that the brand expansion and price cuts will provide potential buyers with the opportunity to get into an Italian brand for the first time.

He said his company wanted to make Italian cars more accessible and desirable.

The first cab off the rank for 2013 will be the Dodge Journey-based Fiat Freemont in April.

36 center imageFrom top: Fiat Punto 500 TwinAir 500X 500L Freemont.

While the Journey is marketed as a people-mover, the Fiat Freemont will be sold as a crossover SUV to ensure it appeals to a wider group of consumers.

Pricing is yet to be revealed for the Freemont, but Mr Tam said he was enthusiastic about its future in Australia.

“It will be, and I can assure you, the best value D-sized crossover the market could offer,” he said.

GoAuto has previously reported that the Freemont would arrive with a number of specifications in both front and all-wheel drive with a starting price below $30,000.

The expansion of the Fiat brand also marks the return of the Punto to the Australian market after it was discontinued under Ateco’s stewardship in May 2010.

Now to be called the Grande Punto, it is expected to compete at the lower end of the light car market.

Australian dealers will receive a face-lifted version of the current generation Punto that was released in 2005.

Mr Tam said he was not concerned about bringing a car of that age back to the market.

“The slice of the market is so big,” he said. “There is always someone out there who wants something different to the usual Japanese and Korean product. We are going to offer a product that plays to our strengths.

“The customer will decide whether they see this car as good value and I have to say, most consumers won’t even know whether this is an old car or a new car … most consumers will just look at it and go ‘wow, there is something new in the marketplace.’ We should do well with this car.

“I believe it’s going to be the most affordable, best-value light car that you can find in the marketplace.”

A hot three-door Abarth Evo Supersport version of the Punto will follow the Grande Punto to Showrooms in late 2013.

Fiat’s new light car, the Panda, will have a premium price over the Grande Punto when it arrives in the last quarter of this year, but Mr Tam said he thought the unique tall-boy design and quirky interior would appeal to consumers looking for something different.

“It’s kind of between a crossover and an SUV. The Panda is unique in its own right it competes in a segment which no one else has gone in yet,” he said.

“In the urbanised city that we live in, we think there is always a customer who wants a higher seating elevated position that looks like an SUV.”

The Panda 4x4 looks set to arrive in Australia in early 2014, naturally with a price premium over the standard Panda.

The baby of Fiat’s line-up, the 500, will expand to four different body types over the next two years, with the hatch and cabriolet to be joined by the longer, four-door 500L in 2014 and in 2015 by the 500X crossover that had a fleeting reveal in Italy in July last year.

But it is the tail end of the 500 line-up that is getting all of the attention, as Fiat Chrysler confirmed the imminent arrival of the 1.2-litre four-cylinder Pop that will now kick off the range.

Pricing for the Pop has not been announced but Fiat’s pricing shake-up that was also announced yesterday has brought the 500 TwinAir manual down to $18,800, meaning the Pop will be priced well under that.

Mr Tam said that despite the fact that it will not be as well-specified as other vehicles in the range, the 500 Pop would appeal to a lot of buyers who don’t need too many options.

“What they want is to have a functional car that for them, you just drive from A to B, and if you look at the 500, you are talking about urban transport,” he said.

“People that live in the city, don’t require a big car, don’t have a huge family … this is maybe even a second car, that will be perfect for them when we do expand the range.”

Despite the Pop being a “de-specced” variant, Mr Tam confirmed that it will have Bluetooth connectivity.

Fiat will also release a number of limited-edition 500 variants over the next 12 months, including the 500 Gucci and Maserati 695 Tributo Maserati.

One vehicle that is still not confirmed for the Australian market is the stylish Dodge Dart-based Viaggio sedan that broke cover at the Beijing motor show last year.

Mr Tam said the fact that the Viaggio was designed for the Chinese market and is only available in left-hand drive made it harder to secure.

“I believe the Viaggio has got a good future in our market because of the fact that it is C-segment sized, it’s a sedan, it is based on the Dodge Dart, it has got all the modern architecture you want in a C-segment car,” he said.

“The unfortunate part of it is, the company would have to invest a lot in terms of getting it built in right hand drive. It’s under review. I wouldn’t say it’s dead at the moment, it is constantly under review.”

Fiat’s commercial range will also get some new metal in its line-up with Fiat Chrysler confirming that the Doblo compact van and Fiorino sub-compact van will be offered in Australia in 2014.

What’s coming for Fiat

Freemont – April 2013
Grande Punto – H2 2013
Abarth 3-dr Punto Evo Supersport – late 2013
Panda – Q4 2013
Panda 4x4 –Q1 2014
500L – 2014
Doblo 2014
Fiorino – 2014
500X – 2015

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