Rumours of the Punto’s demise might well be exaggerated, but a successor could finally be in sight.
It’s somewhat mortifying when you realise that someone you innocently assumed was deceased remains defiantly above ground. Take the Fiat Punto for example. I had blithely assumed it was already pushing up daisies, but quite the contrary. In its current iteration, with us now since 2005, the Punto’s age is underlined by the realisation that its genesis dates back to Fiat’s post-millennial dalliance with General Motors, sharing an Opel-developed understructure from the contemporary Corsa model. I say contemporary, but it seems the current Corsa and Adam still use a variant of this platform, and they remain, if not exactly class-leading, at least broadly competitive.
The issue for Fiat hasn’t really been that of an antediluvian platform, it’s been one of development. Apart from a series of increasingly ill-advised facelifts and some minor fiddling with the specifications, little of note has been done to keep the Punto updated – its last significant massage dating back to 2012 I believe. The reasons for this of course lie with Fiat’s post-crash misfortunes and the fact that our Serge was fighting bigger conflagrations elsewhere. Yet go back a decade and the Punto was one of Europe’s big sellers. In 2006 Fiat sold over 400,000 in Europe alone. Last year, a paltry 62,000 found homes – another FCA product that was roundly outsold by its half-dead White Hen half-sibling.
With sales of this magnitude, you could argue there’s little point in pursuing matters, especially given the sector dominance of the Fiesta/Polo/Clio trio? Well, hang on a moment madam. This remains a massive market and with the right product, one where Fiat could regain a niche. The problem up to now has been product. But surely if Opel could re-engineer the Corsa platform, Fiat could do likewise for the Punto you ask? They probably could have before now, had there not been all that firefighting to do. (Not to mention all those brand-mark/logotype consultancy fees)…*
Which brings us to this week, as Fiat announced a new B-segment offering for Brazil. Dubbed Argo and only shown in moody studio photography in top-line HGT form, the new five door hatchback sits on a variant of the ‘Small Wide’ platform which underpins the Tipo and 500X and is likely to also share its suspensions and running gear. Brazilian-spec Argos will offer a range of three engines – all petrol powered – from a 1.0 litre base unit, to a top-line 1.8. Styling appears to echo that of the Euro-Tipo, albeit with tighter proportions and a more pert rear, if the underexposed teaser shots are any useful barometer. It looks neat, attractive and more to the point, its looks compliment the existing model currently in Fiat showrooms across Europe.
So is FCA dropping a broad hint about a possible future Punto model line – one more in keeping with Fiat’s newfound value positioning, or have they simply left it too late? Needless to say, in terms of market penetration, any hope of getting back to anything resembling the numbers of a decade ago are fanciful in the extreme. But early signs are that Fiat’s value proposition is starting to bear fruit. Last year Tipo deliveries totalled just over 60,000 cars; admittedly also some way short of the mighty hen, but over the first quarter of 2017, Tipo sales have been growing fast.
These figures appear to suggest that a modestly priced, value-led offering in the B-sector would not only be inexpensive to develop, sharing most of its componentry within the Fiat group, but could also be produced on the same lines as existing Fiat models – a significant factor in its favour. It would also stand a decent chance of regaining Fiat’s toehold in a sector they are at risk of losing entirely if they continue to flog a decade old model.
In my mind’s eye, I imagine the scene at FCA towers; the undead, the nearly dead and the walking wounded stalking the corridors, Serge slumped at his desk, tearstained portrait of Mary Barra clutched between cigarette-stained fingers, Big Reidland threatening to benchpress anyone who doesn’t agree he’s right about everything. So far, there’s little clarity, only speculation as to FCA management’s broader intent, but given that the Tipo began life in broadly similar manner and that a B-segment offering is desperately needed, the Argo looks to these bloodshot eyes like their best shot at finally laying the existing Punto and possibly a few other ghosts to rest.
*Editor’s note: [This article has been altered 25/05/17 at 13.43 owing to inaccuracies in the original text].