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Punto punts Golf aside

Big hit: Fiat's Punto hatchback has eclipsed the Volkswagen Golf as the No 1 seller in Europe so far this year.

A pint-sized Fiat has soared to the top of the European sales charts

20 Mar 2001

HOLDEN'S Commodore might be the No 1 seller here, but Fiat's Punto is top of the pops as far as the European sales charts go.

The Italian car-maker's compact hatchback overhauled the Volkswagen Golf to claim the crown for the first two months of 2001.

This statistic is not altogether irrelevant to Australian buyers as the brand may return to Australia within the next two years under the Ateco Automotive umbrella.

Ateco, which currently imports and distributes Alfa Romeo, Citroen and Kia in Australia, has been evaluating the feasibility of reintroducing Fiat here for the past few months. The importer is no stranger to the brand as it distributes Fiat cars in New Zealand.

The all-new Stilo hatchback, recently unveiled at the Geneva motor show, could spearhead Fiat's return to Australia if the proposal gets the green light. The marque's last offerings in Australia were the Regatta and Croma, sold here until July, 1989.

Poor sales and a reputation for questionable reliability prompted Fiat's withdrawal from Australia but its revamped product lineup and dramatically improved image could pave the way for a comeback.

The Punto is an example of Fiat's improved fortunes - at least in Europe, where it outsold rivals such as the Peugeot 206, Volkswagen Polo and Toyota Yaris (read Echo). It took just 19 months to notch up one million units and it appears on track to be the top-selling car in Europe this year.

Fiat says the Punto's roominess, style and value for money are key contributors to its sales success. It also has some interesting technical innovations the Punto Speedgear packs a seven-speed automatic gearbox.

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