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Fiat's 5000!

New beginning: Fiat's Punto Sport was launched Down Under this week.

The returning Italians are seeking big sales, aided by Fiat's huge export appetite

Fiat logo23 Jun 2006

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

FIAT is aiming for at least 5000 sales in Australia by the end of 2009.

Importer Ateco Automotive's general manager for Fiat cars in Australia, David Stone, is adamant the company has the right cars at the right place at the right time.

"In three years time I am certain (Fiat) will be at 5000 or 6000 units per year.

"The reason why we will succeed is because we've got a terrific product that is has the right price, is well specified and looks great," Mr Stone believes.

"We're also starting with a single model that is already a success in Europe.

In fact Fiat expects to eclipse Alfa Romeo sales in Australia within two years.

The company hopes to sell as many 4000 by the end of 2008.

At the Punto's launch in Sydney last week, Mr. Stone told GoAuto that soaring light and small-car sales, combined with a groundswell of public interest in diesels, will help grow the Fiat brand in Australia.

"It will be largely built on product - (there is) Panda - finger's crossed - for there is a 50/50 chance there - I will know that in about a month to see if we can.

"The Stilo replacement will definitely happen - that will be a car that is slightly larger than the Punto.

"And the 500/Cinquecento will be an iconic car, and that will add to the sales figures too.

"So if and when the Panda happens, we could be seeing five or six thousand a year by 2009.

Mr Stone says he is receiving tremendous support from Fiat in Italy.

"The Italians are very keen to drive an export result.

"They want to sell a lot of Fiats for export, and they are going back to (old) markets or growing markets, to get where they would like to be.

"It means then that there will be a drive for them in other areas around the world, and that helps us just because of the economies of scale and throughput will help drive a result for us in what is arguably the most competitive small car market in the world.

Mr Stone is keen to point out that Ateco is not compelled to take each car Fiat is offering.

"They are very happy for us to take only what we think is right for our market," he reveals, "... because they want the brand to do well." Offering a vehicle with European design and heritage, combined with low prices, bright colours and impressive performance, are central to the brand luring young people.

36 center image"I'm not underestimating how well our 1.9 diesels perform. I'm suggesting that the 1.9-litre three-door Punto is a hot hatch. It just happens to be a diesel.

"And we'll have other ones over time, and that will be part of what Fiat is - the lively performance fashion brand." Nevertheless Mr Stone believes the youth-orientated marketing will not alienate older people.

"I believe we will sell cars to people over 55s who will say: 1. 'I did own a Fiat' 2. 'I now only need a small car that's practical and roomy and economical'.

"We'll probably sell to young families as well who determine that they don't need a Falcon station wagon anymore.

The surging appeal of diesels across the board is another factor working in Fiat's favour.

"We're marketing to people who have probably only ever seen a Fiat when they have travelled to Europe. Also their parents probably had a good Fiat experience in the '60s and '70s.

"There is a blatant romance and good feeling about Fiat." The company boss is not concerned with the flipside to the Italian marque's feel-good reputation - the one involving widespread rust, recalcitrant electronics and intermittent unreliability.

"I think it's so long ago. And I think the proof will be when people see the cars first hand.

"When we showcased the orange and black Puntos at the Melbourne motor show (press day)... all the journalists and industry people there all descended on the car.

"There was a great euphoria for the Fiat product. Around 800 people, during the following week, filled out a coupon asking about the car.

"Our mini website... got another 700 or 800 people who have said 'talk to me when the vehicle is launched." Mr Stone does not believe the lack of a fully automatic gearbox in the Punto (it instead offers a variation of Alfa's Selespeed sequential shift clutchless manual transmission) will stifle Punto's popularity.

"Not for our sales ambitions. If we wanted to sell over 1000 units a month like the Toyota Yaris, then yes, it would be. But at 100 a month it is not a problem.

"It will be people experiencing the car for themselves that will do it," Mr Stone believes.

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