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‘No choice but to grow’ Fiat in Oz

Small change: Fiat fans can expect better-value 500s in the near future as the factory-owned Chrysler Australia takes the reins as local distributor.

Fiat-Chrysler boss desperate to secure sub-$20K Fiat 500, more RHD models for Oz

13 Aug 2012

A FIAT 500 priced at less than $20,000 – at least $3000 less than at present – is a top priority for Fiat-Chrysler Australia.

The factory-owned outfit believes it has more scope to expand the range than previous Fiat and Alfa Romeo distributor Ateco Automotive, which officially handed over the keys on May 1.

Fiat-Chrysler Group Australia managing director Clyde Campbell said expansion of sporty premium marque Alfa Romeo will take longer in the absence of new products, but likens the Alfa brand to Jeep in that it has strong heritage and qualities that just need bringing to life with the right vehicles and marketing.

Despite Mr Cambpell’s rallying of right-hand-drive markets to secure production of more right-hook products, there is little progress on the development of an RHD version of Fiat’s Chinese-built Dodge Dart-based Viaggio sedan.

Mike Manley, the global president and CEO of Jeep and COO of Fiat-Chrysler Asia-Pacific, told GoAuto he sees “much bigger potential” with the Alfa Giulietta, from which the Dart/Viaggio platform originates, and “would want the guys to focus on that first”.

However, he said there is “potential for us to take (Viaggio) to many markets” after its Chinese launch in September or October.

36 center imageFrom top: Fiat Chrysler Group's Clyde Campbell and Mike Manley Fiat Viaggio Alfa Romeo Giulietta Fiat 500L Fiat 500X.

In the meantime, Mr Campbell told us he is looking at the right-hand-drive Fiats sold in the UK and was working out “how much of what they are doing can I replicate here”.

“They’ve got Punto, Grande Punto, Panda, a much bigger range on 500 than we’ve got, they’ve got Doblo – there are a number of Fiat variants we don’t have but are being produced in right-hand drive,” he said.

With the well-received, retro-styled Fiat 500 already established in the Australian market but sales constrained by premium pricing, Mr Campbell said bringing the ‘Bambino’ down to a more affordable level could lead to “some serious volumes”.

Without including the hotted-up, even pricier Abarth line-up, the Australian Fiat 500 range is limited to the hatch and convertible in just one variant, both powered by the 0.8-litre two-cylinder TwinAir petrol engine and priced from $22,990 and $25,990 respectively (plus on-road costs).

Sales of the 500 are up 9.9 per cent to the end of July, with 210 non-Abarth models finding homes, but Mr Campbell believes he can do better and “would love to have” a sub-$20,000 Fiat 500.

“I look at what is available in right-hand drive in the UK and there are variants I could actually buy (retail) and sell them here under 20 grand,” he said, pointing to the £9660 ($A14,329) 1.2-litre Pop variant.

“When I use that language to my boss he gets pretty angry so I say, ‘well if you don’t sell them to me cheap enough I will’.

“We don’t have a sticker price that will make people drop their drawers and say ‘wow’, but we are being quite creative in how we can get benefits in at the price point.

“People are attracted to the car, (but) we need to broaden the range.”

Mr Campbell explained that Ateco had brought in quite a highly specified 500 because its business model focused on profitability within a finite distribution agreement timeframe.

“When it becomes a subsidiary operation (as with Fiat-Chrysler), our view is literally forever so we can take strategic avenues instead of tactical,” he said.

Although it is still early days for the new Fiat-Alfa distributor, Mr Campbell is confident, saying: “We are certainly guaranteed to grow.”

This view was echoed by new local Fiat and Alfa Romeo brand chief Bob Moorcroft, who said the local operation “has no choice but to grow it”.

Mr Campbell said the company is now undergoing a positioning review, with the aim of adjusting both pricing and content across the Fiat and Alfa Romeo line-up.

“Maybe there are other variants and trim levels that will allow us to reach certain price points and things like that,” he said.

Existing Fiat products including the Punto small car and Linea sedan are believed to be on the agenda for Australia, with Fiat-Chrysler Australia corporate affairs director Lenore Fletcher commenting: “If it’s got a steering wheel on the right-hand side, we’ll look at it.”

Ms Fletcher singled out the 500L wagon unveiled at the Geneva show in March and the still-secret ‘500X’ SUV glimpsed at a media preview in Italy last month as models that will come under close scrutiny.

In coming years there will be a product bonanza from Alfa Romeo, with exciting products such as the mid-engined 4C sportscar due in 2014, a new Spider co-developed with the next-generation Mazda MX-5 arriving in 2015 and the 159-replacing Giulia sedan slated for a 2014 launch.

Mr Campbell likened the current Alfa line-up, which is limited to the MiTo light hatch and Giulietta small car, to a dormant brand.

“There is going to be some really great product coming out of Alfa going forward and it’s going to be quite a big brand for us,” he said. “It’s just going to take a while for us to get there.

“The reason we’re so excited about Alfa is its latent brand qualities that are similar to Jeep.

“It has significant heritage and it resonates (with people) so it just needs to be brought to life. Once that kicks in, we’ll need to ensure supply.”

Even with co-developed products like the Spider, Mr Manley said Fiat-Chrysler is determined to make sure each product lives up to the Alfa brand and the company is keen to come up with a product portfolio that, like Jeep, adheres to a strict set of brand standards to make the most of its image.

“One of the things the group is very clear on is that the development of Alfa has to be pure, genuine Alfa into the future and that will extend into every product they do.

“It will be sheetmetal, it will be powertrains, it will be other things. The way we take it forward is fundamental to its longevity in the marketplace. It has to be a genuine Alfa.

“Co-development platforms absolutely make a lot of sense so long as the end product is distinctly the brand it is supposed to be (and) you can do that as well as saving a lot of the engineering development costs by sharing certain investments.”

Mr Manley agreed the Alfa brand has serious potential under the Fiat-Chrysler alliance.

“As that portfolio fills out, our ability to communicate the brand as well as distribute it is going to be helped.

“For me, because Alfa has such potential around the world, making sure we have a full portfolio would be very interesting.”

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