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Fiat shifts its brand upstream

Bellissimo: Fiat’s iconic 500 and similarly styled 500X will carry the bulk of the brand’s sales as it focuses on more aspirational products for the Australian market.

Italian marque moves to a more upmarket focus, while committing to core models

22 Feb 2016

FIAT Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Australia is moving the Italian Fiat brand more upmarket after evaluating feedback and ditching the Punto light hatch and quirky Panda models in September last year.

With only three passenger cars in its range, the Italian marque has increased prices of its entry level model, the Fiat 500 city car, by $1000 now $18,000 before on-road costs for the Pop variant.

Fiat’s recently launched 500X small SUV is also priced at the higher end of the crossover segment, starting at $28,000 for the base Pop and topping out at $39,000 for the flagship Cross Plus.

Fiat’s only other passenger car offering is the Dodge Journey-derived Freemont large-SUV/MPV, pitched as a European alternative to the likes of the Toyota Kluger, Kia Sorento and Mazda CX-9.

The Italian brand also offers a range of light-commercial vehicles through its Fiat Professional arm, including the Doblo, Scudo and Ducato vans.

FCA Australia director of marketing and product strategy Zac Loo said that the brand had been re-evaluated and was ready to move into a different position in the Australian market.

“We sort of looked at what was going to resonate with Australian consumers, because Fiat, as a brand across the world, means many different things,” he said.

“In some countries, we refer to it as ‘blue jeans’, which is the more rational but higher-designed Fiat, but it’s also economical.

“On the other side it’s referred to as ‘red leather,’ which is the 500 and the 500X, the aspirational core essence of what Fiat is.”

In overseas markets, the Panda and Punto are still on sale and Fiat also offers a small car-sized Bravo (dubbed Ritmo when it was briefly sold here between 2008 and 2009), the Linea small-sedan in emerging markets and the Suzuki S-Cross-based Sedici small SUV.

Mr Loo explained that dropping one element of the brand allowed them to refocus its efforts on products that work for the Australian market.

“Last year, we looked at it and said, ‘what does the brand actually mean to our market?’ and we were kind of two things, we weren’t two things that were aligned really,” he said.

“We took the opportunity to say well let’s drop the ‘blue jeans’ element, which was the decision to exit some product lines, and then restart the process of, you know, building from the centre out.

“The 500 is the centre of the brand and it’s like, what fits with that as we build the product line out? We will look for more opportunities, but we’re kind of really happy in the sweet spot that we have because 500 is the essence, 500X is a really nice extension and a whole new opportunity for us.”

While the current model line-up is slim, Fiat will introduce its Mazda MX-5-based 124 Spider sportscar in late 2016, but Mr Loo said the Aegea compact-sedan and Mitsubishi Triton-based Fullback pick-up would not fit with Fiat’s new brand direction.

“Both of those products, we don’t have plans to bring them to the market, but they both probably fit more to the ‘blue jeans’ side rather than the ‘red leather’ side,” he said.

Last year, Fiat clocked 3945 new vehicle sales, which was a 31.5 per cent drop in total sales compared with 2014.

While the first month of 2016 has also seen Fiat sales drop by 62.8 per cent year on year, the Italian marque has just released a refreshed 500 range and plans to shake-up its spicy Abarth range with a cheaper model by mid-year.

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