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Wheels rolling on Fiat Australia expansion

Taking a Punto: The Fiat Punto looks likely to return here, priced lower than before at around $18,000.

Price cuts, new models and more dealers for Fiat and Alfa in Australia next year

Fiat logo8 Oct 2012

By MIKE COSTELLO

FIAT is expected to add two new models to its Australian range from the first half of next year – the Freemont and the Punto – as part of an ambitious plan to exponentially grow its local sales.

An aggressive push from the new factory-owned Australian importer will also see big cuts to the starting price of existing models such as the Fiat 500 and the Alfa Romeo Giulietta around the same time.

GoAuto understands the new entry Fiat 500 Pop 1.2 petrol will retail from well below the $20,000 mark – the current range starts at $22,990 plus on-road costs – and will underpin a target of five-fold sales growth to 2500 units annually.

The Giulietta will be re-positioned as a closer rival to the Volkswagen Golf, with greater supply levels and a new entry version priced under $30,000.

The strategy to broaden the Alfa portfolio comes in lieu of the Viaggio sedan, which is still only available in a left-hand drive.

The rapid expansion – which will also include swiftly growing the dealer network from 16 at present to 52 sites – cannot commence until February 1 next year under the terms of the franchise switch from private distributor Ateco Automotive.

36 center imageFrom top: Fiat Chrysler Australia's Clyde Campbell Fiat 500 Alfa Romeo Giulietta.

According to Fiat Chrysler Australia managing director Clyde Campbell, the factory importer planned to “take a different view on the business than a private importer would”, and said growing the dealer footprint to such a high degree was crucial.

“Customers don’t want to travel more than 12 minutes for servicing or more than 30 minutes to buy a car,” he said.

“With 16 dealers nationally for the Fiat network, it doesn’t fall into those parameters for 87 percent of Australians.”

Many of the new dealers will be existing Chrysler/Jeep sites that have opted to expand to accommodate the Italian duo, while 14 of the 16 current sites will continue.

Mr Campbell said the Freemont would not replace its Dodge Journey twin here as expected, but would instead sell alongside it from a substantially lower price point as a rival for mainstream compact SUVs.

GoAuto understands a wide range of Freemont variants will be offered, encompassing petrol and diesel powertrains, front and all-wheel drive, and five or seven-seat configurations, with base versions kicking off below $30,000.

Mr Campbell said the company projected “as much volume out of Freemont as we are out of the entire Fiat and Alfa passenger car range today already”, pointing to around 200 sales per month.

The Punto small hatch, meanwhile, is almost certain to return to Australian shores by June next year, with an expected starting price around $18,000.

Previous importer Ateco sold the Punto here until May 2010, and it is a facelifted version of this same-generation vehicle that is poised to reappear.

Mr Campbell dismissed claims the car was too old in its current guise – the current shape dates back to 2005 but received a cosmetic and powertrain update (including the addition of the award-winning Twin Air two-cylinder engine) last year – and said it would sell if the price was right.

“If they approve our pricing, we’ll take it, and we’ll know in a few months,” he said. “If not, we’ll wait for the next one.”

Less likely to emerge here any time soon is the funky Panda light car, which Fiat Australia was keen to get but cannot meet its target price.

“Panda is a bit more of a struggle for us, to be honest,” said Mr Campbell.

“You need a bit of separation. If we stack a Panda with a (Alfa) Mito and a 500 and a Punto, you cluster them all in around the same price point.” The recently revealed Panda 4x4 small crossover has also been ruled-out for the time being since it cannot be sourced in right-hand drive.

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