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Fiat sends more 500s Down Under

Top of the...: The $14k Fiat 500 Pop has been a smash hit with buyers, with range-wide sales up nearly 300 per cent this year.

Fiat Oz snares extra supply of the 500 Pop, and ponders re-instating manual TwinAir

28 Oct 2013

FIAT’S decision to slash the starting price of the retro 500 to $14k drive-away in June has been so successful, the Polish factory that builds them has sent an extra 1000 units Down Under to handle the demand.

And in further 500 news, the discontinued manual gearbox version of the two-cylinder, premium-level TwinAir variant could also be re-instated to the line-up.

Speaking at the release of the Panda sub-light hatch in Melbourne last week, Fiat Group Australia managing director Veronica Johns said the re-positioned Pop base variant was helping to drive extra showroom traffic, and stated the price promotion would remain in effect.

“The price will stay in place for as long as it needs to,” she said.

“The 500 has made a fantastic debut in this country when we relaunched it with the Pop, and (while) it’s been about the product (it is also) about the price.

Given we sold out of our Pop in two weeks, we got that right.”

Fiat Group product strategy specialist Alex Tam backed-up Ms Johns’ comments by stating that there had been a very positive knock-on effect for everybody concerned at Fiat.

“We are constrained by supply at the moment,” he said, “and we want as many as we can get. But from our perspective (the Pop’s strong sales) has clearly been a confidence boost for Fiat in Australia.

“It also shows our commitment that we’re here to stay and make the brand great in this country. So there are no intentions to move on the 500’s price any time soon.”

The price cut, announced as part of a range re-launch in June this year, has driven sales up by a staggering 279.9 per cent YTD, with 1383 units scampering out the door.

The success of the 500 Pop’s drive-away pricing has partially prompted arch-rival Volkswagen to respond with $13,990 drive-away and $14,990 drive-away pricing for its three and five-door Up models respectively – a move the German marque promises will be permanent rather than just a limited-time offer.

While the high demand for the entry-level Fiat caught its product planners by surprise, the company says that fear of impatient buyers walking away from the approximately six to eight week wait has prompted rapid re-ordering as well as an increase in the number of Pops allocated for Australia.

“A further 1000 Pops were built for Australia last month (September) and so they should start arriving early next month, Mr Tam said.

“We’re hoping supply will free up later on this year. We have found that in this end of the market people aren’t always prepared to wait.”

All 500s are built in Fiat’s Tychy plant in Poland, and normally take up to eight weeks to land in Australian dealerships.

Speaking of which, the brand hopes to keep the sales momentum going with a 40 per cent increase in dealer numbers in Australia, up from around 60 right now.

“Last year we had 17 dealers, today we have 60, and by mid-to-late 2014 we’ll have 100,” Ms Johns revealed.

“And that’s really important because when you want to increase volume, you need to make it easy for people (to access us).”

Meanwhile, following some complaints from the media as well as impending dealer and customer feedback, Fiat is currently investigating the re-introduction of the five-speed manual version of the two-cylinder turbocharged 500 TwinAir next year.

“We are currently seeking feedback from our dealer network,” Mr Tam said.

Although the 500 TwinAir was first released in both manual and controversial Dualogic robotised transmission formats in early 2012 (nearly four years after the series launched in 2008), the former was dropped for the latter when the series was repositioned in June this year.

However, as Fiat has reunited the twin-cylinder and manual shifter drivetrain on the middle specification Panda Easy this month, it gives the company an opportunity to assess customer response.

Whether a re-introduced 500 TwinAir manual would be an extension of the existing $20,300 500 Lounge TwinAir Dualogic and its $22,700 convertible-roof sibling, or arrive in the lower-grade Pop or Sport guises as a mid-to-high teens proposition, is unknown.

While the expensive-to-build TwinAir is currently a premium engine option on models such as the Panda and 500 around the world, it is understood that increasing economies of scale from rising volumes, combined with tightening emissions requirements in Europe, mean that the award-winning twin-pot turbo may eventually become Fiat’s standard base engine in mature markets such as Australia.

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