Forthcoming Fiats Will Be Like IKEA.

FCA’s Olivier François outlines Fiat’s flat-pack future. 

Fiat brand CEO, Olivier Francois. Image via thedetroitbureau
Fiat brand CEO, Olivier Francois. Image via thedetroitbureau

On the basis of his recent outpourings, I rather doubt whether FCA’s Olivier François has ever been to an IKEA retail outlet. After all, visiting one of their stores is a little like dentistry. Numbingly unpleasant but occasionally necessary. At such times I’m compelled to go, I try to plan my expeditions in military fashion. Go when its quiet, get in, get the target and get the hell out.

Speaking with Automotive News’ Jennifer Clark this week, Fiat’s brand CEO outlined Fiat’s forthcoming plans for the C-segment, a sector Fiat have virtually abandoned across Northern European markets. Discussing the forthcoming model to replace the arthritic Bravo, François was keen to reposition Fiat’s offering, saying, “It will be functional and not loaded with features that the buyers don’t want to pay for. If you compare it with the Bravo, it will cover the same market space with two bodies [hatchback and estate] and a clarified mission: We will be careful to give you what you expect. Like IKEA, affordable but smart.” 

The forthcoming Fiat Agera. Image via triggmine
The forthcoming Fiat Agera. Image via triggmine

In François’ world, people view IKEA positively. And for the most part he’s probably right – people probably do see the furniture and homeware chain as broadly useful. But I would contend that most are at best ambivalent about the brand, hardly an ideal emotional state if you’re in the business of selling cars in large quantities, especially following a lengthy hiatus. But of course what Olivier doesn’t want to say is who Fiat really wants to emulate.

Because the forthcoming Fiat Aegea or whatever it is to be called, will not be like IKEA at all. It will be more like Linda Jackson’s nu-Citroën. Low tech, keenly priced, with an emphasis on function and value for money. Like that Cactus which appears to be going gangbusters. Exactly where some of us have been saying Fiat should always have been and where Citroën really shouldn’t be within a nautical mile of – (but that’s another argument entirely).

Sorry, I got confused. Here's one we won't be getting - the Agera Berlina. Image via fiatgroupworld
Sorry, I got confused. Here’s one we won’t be getting – the Agera Berlina. Image: fiatgroupworld

So have Fiat finally woken up to the realisation that the European car buying public are not prepared to pay a premium price for a car with a Fiat badge on the nose? Because 500 derivations aside, (and that horse will bolt before long) it’s the value isles all the way now. But not flat-pack of course. That would be ridiculous.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. [Dis]content Provider.

14 thoughts on “Forthcoming Fiats Will Be Like IKEA.”

  1. Most relevant, and most sad, is that an officer of a company with a noble history going back well over a century needs to look to another younger company for an image. And it is typical marketeer, name-dropping, cross-brand bullshit. As if just evoking a successful name will make you successful by association.

    “We will be careful to give you what you expect”. What the hell does that mean? At present I expect a very ordinary car with a mediocre ride, possibly dressed up with a poor retro parody body. Is that what you mean?. I’ll tell you what Olivier. Shut up, build the goods, offer them to me and I’ll decide whether you have given me what I expect (by which I assume you mean want or require or need). But until then, however much you spout, my expectations will remain low.

    Eoin. The meatballs.in the cafe aren’t bad.

  2. “It will be functional and not loaded with features that the buyers don’t want to pay for.”

    For me, this translates to: “We couldn’t bother or even afford to put in state-of-the-art technology, so we just tell you that you don’t want that.”

  3. Possibly now is the time for me to reveal our plans for Driven To Write this Autumn. The editorial board has decided to reposition this site within the existing automotive publication marketplace where easy access and across-the-board readability are paramount. Until now we have saturated the site with extraneous adjectives but, in our future re-structuring, we will pare down to just 10 – stonking, iconic, crucial, in-your-face, sybaritic and taut with the 4 remaining to be decided later this month by customer clinic. In future we will deliver you what you need to read. Our end-object is to rationalise the site so that by the start of next year you will only need to spend a maximum of 10 seconds visiting it each day. We will be careful to give you what you expect. Like Heinz Baked Beans, but easier to open – download speeds permitting.

    1. What? 10 seconds??? Now that’s stonking! And what will I do on boring train commutes in the future?

    2. Considering the brainwashing improve-yourself-style professional writing-workshop I found myself attending a couple of weeks ago, that’s not too far from truth on most websites and increasingly in academia as well. Brave New World…

      But we all should use the term “sybaritic” more often.

  4. So, the language sounds like the usual marketing drivel, but what that man seems to be suggesting is that Fiat aims to offer stylish, pared down but well thought out cars at an affordable price. Nothing wrong with that and the only real question is whether they will be able to deliver. And we all know that it’s easier said than done.

    1. Laurent. Of course you’re right to suggest that there might be something there behind all the guff – I just read the stuff and a red haze appears. Actually I was looking at a 5 door Stilo the other day, a car I dismissed at the time, and in a way that was a decent straightforward package. But, today, in a world of Qashqais and Cactuses, is there a market for a pared down hatchback built at European labour rates? Apart from their TwinAir engine, I don’t think of Fiat as offering anything special under the skin any more, so I’m not actually sure who will buy these Ikeamobiles.

    2. Indeed, there’s a risk that this statement will amount to nothing but ‘more of the same’ on the part of FCA. Coming up with simple yet attractive products is actually one of the most difficult things to achieve these days. Chris in his post below has it spot on.

  5. That Fiat should be thinking of IKEA is interesting. I would argue that IKEA has done more to democratise “Design” than any other brand. For the most part their products are cohesive, tasteful and well finished. Only ubiquity makes them homogeneous.

    Crucially, IKEA quality is as good as competitors, for a lower price. How so? IKEA carefully considers the usage of their products, then intelligently engineers out cost at the design stage. As a result of this process, their products are uniformly fit for purpose yet simple to produce. (Note, this is not the same as simply cost cutting, which aims to replace parts with cheaper versions of the same. IKEA fixings may be cheaply produced, but they are also of good quality.)

    So what are the lessons for FCA? Clearly their design process must improve. No doubt it is IKEA’s “whole of system” design process that Fiat wishes to emulate. This “deep level simplification” approach will take considerable time, money and intelligence to implement, especially in automotive design which favours ever more complicated solutions.

    Of course, the final weapon in IKEA’s armoury is size. IKEA manufactures at huge scale and sells across the world, driving already low costs further downwards. Even taking into account Chrysler’s added volume, this last part represents the tallest hurdle for Fiat’s ongoing viability. With fresh products stemming from an entirely new way of thinking, clearing that hurdle will take a spectacular leap of faith.

    1. Chris’ points out, quite correctly that IKEA produce and sell well designed products at keen prices that people are happy to buy. I wasn’t suggesting IKEA is a bad thing – far from it. Merely that the shopping experience is frequently stressful and fraught. If you were to ask people what they thought of IKEA, they would probably say they liked the brand and their products but hate going to an IKEA outlet. Overall, they’d probably be in the ‘like’ rather than the ‘love’ camp. Does this matter? It does for large corporations, although for Fiat, being liked is infinitely preferable than the blank ambivalence they’re faced with today.

      Fiat has always been a so-called ‘value’ brand and not so long ago had a plausible value proposition, which has (to my eyes) made their infrequent attempts to convince us otherwise appear unseemly and counter-productive. If I thought for a moment that François intended for Fiat to adopt the Swedish model of intelligent pared back design, married to good quality – that ‘whole of system’ approach Chris talks about, I’d applaud him vigorously.

      Call me a cynic if you like, but it’s shriekingly obvious he has no such intention. More likely, Fiat management have seen how sales of Citroen’s Cactus has leapt since launch and are now hell-bent on appropriating Linda Jackson’s business model. Albeit, being Fiat, one they’ll probably execute even less convincingly.

      At least there was no mention of ‘fun’ in his presentation. Small mercies…

  6. Ikea is one of my hate objects. Apart from the unavoidable need to buy a child´s mattress (we are committed to a bunk bed) I will never buy anything there again. Ikea peddles the myth that their storage will make your home nice. No, it just takes up more space. And their furniture looks crumby almost immediately it is sat on. The shelves don´t stay on the walls and the book-cases are space wasters. No, no, no. Avoid Ikea. And if Fiat becomes like Ikea they are stuffed.

    1. Richard. You’re fortunate to be able to sample your Scandinavian style first-hand. Bear a thought for those of us ho have to accept the flat-packed version.

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