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Fiat 124 to spearhead brand revival

Sharing is caring: While Mazda’s MX-5 (left) and the as-yet unseen Fiat 124 will share a platform, their looks and powertrains will differ.

Incoming new and refreshed Fiat product ensures brand’s place in Australia

24 Jul 2015

UPDATED: 28/07/2015FIAT will again reset its position in the Australian market in the coming year, with a roll out of new and updated product – and a clear-out of underperformers – set to lift the brand Down Under.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Australia president and CEO Pat Dougherty was bullish about Fiat’s place in the local stable of Italian and American brands, telling GoAuto “Fiat is here to stay, for sure”.

At the top will be the 124 Spider, which will be built alongside Mazda’s new MX-5 in Japan, but will sport its own drivetrains and body panels. Right-hand-drive production will begin in January 2016, at least six months after the MX-5 launches locally.

Mr Dougherty revealed that there was an agreement in place to delay the 124’s on-sale date worldwide to allow room for the MX-5 to launch first.

“We have an agreement with Mazda, we went into this together at the same time,” he told GoAuto at the launch of the Chrysler 300 in Sydney. “It wasn't like it they did it on their own and badged it. We went into it at the same time prior to production. “We also agreed that we wouldn't start production until six months or so after they launched theirs. So we're just a little bit behind them globally.”

Mr Dougherty does not expect the 124 to add much to Fiat’s bottom line, but he believes it’s an important car nonetheless.

“It’s not a big volume play, per se,” he admitted, “but it’s an exciting and important piece that says ‘that's a cool car and I'd like to go look at that’.

It gives the dealer something to draw people in. It's fun for us, too.”

An Abarth version of the 124 is also expected to be launched locally.

The Italian brand will debut the refreshed 500 city car in Australia before Christmas, with production starting in Bologna, Italy in the next month. Sales of the 500 have remained strong, despite FCA Australia repositioning the car away from its low driveaway price point, with 1394 sales to the end of June 2015 just 5.4 per cent down on the same period in 2014. It trails only the Mitsubishi Mirage (1963 sales) in the micro-car sector for the year.

“It’s one of our unsung heroes for the year,” said Mr Dougherty. “Prior to me coming, a little over a year ago, the market decided they were going to try and light the thing on fire, and went after a $14,000 (driveaway) price on the vehicle,” he said. “It drove up the volume over a short period of time, but we couldn't sustain it because it was just too expensive to do from a manufacturer's standpoint. “So we took the price up, and now we've sold the same amount of 500s this time this year as we did last year. We've actually sold more, at a $16,000 price point. So we put the price up a couple thousand dollars, we're selling more.

It's a better car, it's more sustainable at that price point.”

The facelifted version features minor external and suspension revisions, a new Uconnect infotainment system and other internal tweaks. Mr Dougherty acknowledged that the 500 would likely wear a price increase when it lands here later this year.

“We're probably going to go up a little bit, because when you invest in the vehicles you have to get some return,” he said. “I think where we put the money is where people will pay.”

The 500X crossover, which is built alongside the Jeep Renegade in Bologna, will launch late in 2015, a month or so after the Renegade.

While its Freemont SUV/MPV is doing reasonably solid numbers (763 sales in 2015 so far), the 500’s underperforming stablemate, the Panda, has been dropped from the local roster.

“We have been looking at the Fiat line-up in Australia to see what has been working and what hasn’t worked so well,” said Mr Dougherty.

“The Panda is a hugely successful car globally for Fiat, but it hasn’t resonated with Australian buyers the way that we would have liked it to.”

Just 202 Pandas have been sold in 2015, against 1963 for the category-topping Mitsubishi Mirage. Just 577 examples of the Panda have been sold since its launch in October 2013.

The small Punto, too, has tumbled 73 per cent year on year, with the nine-year-old hatch recording just 173 sales this year, and just 11 in June.

Previous importer Ateco Automotive dropped the Punto in mid-2010, but the factory backed FCA operation re-introduced it in August 2013.

Company sources would only say that the Punto was still available at Fiat dealerships, while Mr Dougherty has said previously that it was important to offer dealers a full range of products.

Both products are due for renewal the next-generation Punto is expected in late 2017 and will be built for the Asia-Pacific region, while the Panda will be designed primarily for Europe, according to Fiat’s own five-year plan, unveiled in May 2014.

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