Spirito di Punto

Rumours of the Punto’s demise might well be exaggerated, but a successor could finally be in sight.

The 2017 Fiat Punto. “Dynamic, attractive and timeless”, say Fiat. I think they simply mean old. Image: autotoday.it

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.

All hail the mighty hen. Image: motorbox

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)…*

2017 Fiat Argo. Image: topspeed.in

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.

Argo rear view. Image: car.blog.br

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.

Image: gopixpic

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].

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. [Dis]content Provider.

21 thoughts on “Spirito di Punto”

  1. To what degree are the JTD diesel and Fiat Pratola Serra petrol engines related given the latter is said to be an evolution of the Fiat Twin-Cam engine?

    Also assuming such a connection exists why did Fiat grow complacent from the late-1990s / early-2000s by abandoning the 1600-2000cc petrol segment (Alfa Romeo and formerly Lancia notwithstanding), leaving only the Fiat FIRE-derived 1.4 Turbo as the largest petrol engine?

    Additionally how did Fiat drop the ball with the C-platform that appeared with the overweight Stilo and similar overweight Alfa Romeos / Lancias of 2000s? Essentially the sort of models that would have been prime candidates for a new generation of competitive 1.6-2.0 Inline-4 Turbo / 2.4 Inline-5 Turbo engines.

    1. “To what degree are the JTD diesel and Fiat Pratola Serra petrol engines related given the latter is said to be an evolution of the Fiat Twin-Cam engine?”

      Except for the 1.3 Multijet (which is FIRE-derived), all of Fiat’s passenger car in-line diesels are Pratola Serra engines (‘Family B’ for fours, ‘Family C’ for fives). It was designed from the start to be built in both petrol and diesel variants. But there is no carry-over from the Lampredi twink, it was as much of a clean-sheet as you get in this business.

      A lot of the larger-capacity Family B/C petrol engines were steadily phased out after the GM deal in favour of Ecotec donks. That was partially emissions driven, too, in addition to the economies of scale rationale. Of course, that didn’t work out because of the divorce; also, because they were unreliable junk with a tendency to stretch their timing chains. Fiat’s stop-gap solution between 2004 and the Chrysler deal was to develop another Family B variant – the 1.8 turbo in the Delta/159/4C. But also, the period shortly after the GM deal in 2000 was when Fiat was burning about $2m a day and absolutely every non-essential expense was being culled. So one assumes the decision to cull their larger petrol engines made itself.

      I must confess I haven’t looked in a long time, but I don’t remember the Stilo being overly-heavy for its class when it came out. The problems with that car were elsewhere. But on the 159 specifically, the story I heard at the time was that the Premium platform was originally intended to be used by Saab and Cadillac for their next-generation E-segment sedans, along with AR for the 166 replacement. Progetto 939 – what became the 159 – was initially supposed to be on Epsilon. Then at some point, GM threw in the towel on using Premium, saying it was too expensive. Apparently, in order to salvage the work done on the platform so far (and, I suppose, to prevent having to re-do everything done to that point on the ‘169’, which would have been left on a dead platform with no future), Alfa took the decision to move 939 onto Premium, which reportedly is why the production 159 shares a wheelbase with Epsilon-based cars. The problem is that Premium was designed as an E-segment architecture so everything underneath is over-engineered for a D-segment sedan like the 159, and REALLY over-engineered for a 2+2 coupe like the Brera. Which is why the 159 was a bit overweight for its class, and the Brera a lot overweight.

      Still, that decision was entirely vindicated, for as we all know, the 169 went on to be a stunning success.

    2. A bunch of good questions.
      To answer the second set: refinement and robustness anxiety due to VW’s success.

      To answer the first, I think it was not out of step to move to smaller engines. Don’t quite a few firms handle things with turbo’d small capacity motors instead of 1.5-2.0 litre units?

    3. Stradale

      It is mentioned that the Fiat Stilo was overweight and even significantly underpowered with certain engines and additionally it’s suspension was a step backwards compared to the old Bravo/Brava, while the Selespeed gearbox on even the underperforming 2.4 Abarth only added to the problems. A shame as a lighter Fiat Stilo with fully independent suspension and either 2.0 Inline-4 Turbo or 2.4 Inline-4 Turbo 200+ hp Hot Hatch engines not burdened by Selespeed would have been a great performer.

      Speaking of GM’s involvement with Fiat, was a joint C-segment platform ever considered for use by Fiat such as GM Delta platform (or T-Platform on Astra G/H) along the same lines as the GM Fiat Small platform?

      So in theory it would have been possible for Fiat to enlarge the 1.3 Multijet to a 1.4 Multijet given its FIRE origins?

      Richard Herriott

      It is my view that Fiat missed an opportunity to add Alfa Romeo’s more potent 1.6-2.0 Twin-Spark versions of the Pratola Serra Inline-4 engine to its own range to take over from the old SOHC and Twin-Cam engines as well as spawn a new generation of 1.6-2.0 Pratola Serra-derived torquey (if necessary turbocharged) Petrol engines (1.75 Turbo notwithstanding).

      On top of missing an opportunity in comparison with rivals to quickly produce 2.0 Inline-4 Turbo (or even 2.4 Inline-5 Turbo) petrol engines as spiritual successors of sorts to the old 2.0 Turbo Fiat Twin-Cam units, just when the Hot Hatch segment was taking off from the early-2000s onwards where 2.0 Turbos gradually become more prevalent in the segment.

      It would also have not been unusual for Fiat to produce 1.6 Turbocharged version of the Pratola Serra engine as a spiritual successor of sorts to the 130-140 hp 1.6 Turbocharged Twin-Cam engines that once powered the original Lancia Delta during the 1980s, given the current prevalence of 1.6 Turbo engines by other carmakers that would have proved more suitable then the FIRE-based 1.4 Turbos.

    4. “it’s suspension was a step backwards compared to the old Bravo/Brava”

      This is a somewhat vague statement. If you get underneath a Stilo you’ll see the rear axle is clearly related to the ’99 Punto’s, which is a perfectly acceptable drive. The Stilo sucks but the reasons for that go well beyond the presence of a torsion beam as such. Functionally a torsion beam is closer to an independent axle than a dead beam and in any case, the Tipo Due/Tre trailing arms were a) not especially sophisticated and b) not true IRS. It’s not like Fiat was lacking for mid-to-high performance engine options at the turn of the century – they could easily have put the 2.0 20V turbomotor in the Stilo if they were so inclined, they were producing it for the Thesis all the way up to 2008 and I dare say the line had surplus capacity. That they didn’t bother suggests they realised the Stilo was a dead loss from launch and the focus had shifted to rationalising projects that really should have been trimmed a decade before in any real company.

      “Speaking of GM’s involvement with Fiat, was a joint C-segment platform ever considered for use by Fiat such as GM Delta platform (or T-Platform on Astra G/H) along the same lines as the GM Fiat Small platform?”

      The short answer is that the deal didn’t last long enough for it to come to fruition, but the talk at the time was that the second-gen Stilo would use Delta.

      “It would also have not been unusual for Fiat to produce 1.6 Turbocharged version of the Pratola Serra engine as a spiritual successor of sorts to the 130-140 hp 1.6 Turbocharged Twin-Cam engines that once powered the original Lancia Delta during the 1980s, given the current prevalence of 1.6 Turbo engines by other carmakers that would have proved more suitable then the FIRE-based 1.4 Turbos.”

      What do you think was/is lacking about the 1.4? (Before the divorce the rumor was that the 500 Abarth would use the GM 1.6 turbo. I don’t think this would have been an improvement on what we got.)

      “So in theory it would have been possible for Fiat to enlarge the 1.3 Multijet to a 1.4 Multijet given its FIRE origins?”

      Strictly speaking, it’s actually a 1.2 – early on the capacity was cited as 1248cc, although that was quickly ‘corrected’ to 1251. I mean, sure, anything is technically possible if you have enough time and money. But I can’t say I think it suffers for being a 1.25. I am not that big on diesels in general, but it’s definitely one of Fiat’s better engineering efforts in recent times. I had a 500L renter for a few weeks in Italy a couple of years ago and four-up with accompanying luggage over nearly 4000km, including fairly extensive autostrada stretches at 130 and a few days being caned mercilessly over the Alps and Stelvio Pass, it averaged a whisker under 50mpg – easily the best bit of the car. I thought that was pretty impressive.

      Also, a major problem with expanding a diesel’s capacity, especially marginally, is that combustion chamber shape is even more critical than on petrol engines – a small change has dramatic effects. There is far more improvement potential in refining the injector technology, which is what OEMs concentrate on.

  2. “Since no other Fiat model shares its architecture, there is little financial benefit to Fiat in retaining it. Better and far cheaper to use one of their own.”

    Not entirely sure what you are trying to say here. At its core, half of FCA’s current stuff is Punto-derived in some form – SUSW underpins the 500L, 500X, Renegade, Compasso, Doblo, and indeed Tipo.

    I have heard it said that the defining characteristic of Italian design (generally speaking, not just limited to the automotive realm) is that it leads. On occasion, it might lead down blind and unfulfilling alleyways, but it has a history of attempting to be creative, different and innovative. This looks like a Kia, only less well-resolved. I suspect that is what is most disappointing about their latest output, and I say that as someone on record here praising Kia’s recent work. That doesn’t mean I think Fiat should be ripping them off (and I can guarantee the interior won’t be up to Kia’s standards).

    1. Stradale: It appears the DTW researchers discovered some of Editor Simon’s fino stash and got their platform architectures muddled, conflating the 500/panda understructure with what the press dub ‘New-Wide.’ Honestly, you turn your back for a minute… Rest assured, a stern talking to will be delivered.

      Regarding Fiat, as I see things, their best and possibly only path forward is by offering a slightly richer ‘Dacia+’ product and try to rebuild from there. As much as I appear to exist in a state of abject denial – (see, Lancia/Jaguar/Citroen), I accept that the FIAT of Ghidella, Canterella et al is gone forever.

      I may have sounded flippant about the current Punto in the piece, but really isn’t it a bookend? Perhaps the final old-school Fiat. We won’t see its like again.

    2. Yes, agreed. I remember seeing the Grande Punto just before its public reveal and thinking that for what is, at the end of the day, a cheap/disposable hatchback, it was a very pleasing piece of work (compare and contrast: 207), with some lovely details and a good amount of effort taken to lift it above the norm. But then I think that is true for all three Puntos (at least the pre-facelift versions). The first generation in particular has held up extremely well, both inside and out – definitely one of GG’s better efforts. This Argo thing is really a what-from-where-type product and will (not) be remembered accordingly.

  3. In my opinion Punto still is one of the best styled cars ever. Main problem is with engines pallete: in polish pricelist we have only 69 hp 1.2 and 70 something hp 1.4. Maybe there is also some diesel but I’m not sure. Also Fiats commercial are very rare, inexistend compared to german “premium” brands

  4. I always liked the styling of this car – the first facelift was tragic, giving the car a menacingly clown-like face, but I thought the 2012 effort actually undid much of that horror. It’s true that Argo’s look does align with the latest Tipo, but I had a look at one of those in the showroom last Saturday (my wife quite fancies a 500 (used)) and it’s a pretty turgid and sad affair, so no, thanks to a mini-me version of it on our streets. When you think of the sales and style of the Uno, Tipo (by IDEA) and even the early versions of the Punto, one sees how far FIAT has slumped, and that pleases me not at all.

    1. To be fair, VW Group bought out Giugiaro and employed all his best ideas on the Up!

      Fiat won’t be able to do something like the Punto ever again.

  5. The big interest is probably the GSE (Global Small Engine) based on a 333cc cylinder module and available as a 999cc triple and a 1332cc four.

    It actually appeared towards the end of last year in the Brazilian Uno, and challenges a number of orthodoxies, having two valves per cylinder, natural aspiration, a very high 13.2:1 compression ratio and a cam phasing VVT system which allows it to run in the Miller cycle on low loads.

    The dimensions (70 x 86.5) and baseplate construction suggest a FIRE derivative, but it seems to be all new, with an offset crankshaft and a version of the Multi Air head.

    Turbocharged four valve derivatives are on the way, it looks as if these could replace the FIRE and possibly TwinAir in Europe.

    As for the Argo, it looks like a Gol / Onix / Sandero / i20 competitor rather than a challenger for the Fiesta and the VAG MQB A0 family – a variation on the universal developing world hatchback overlaid with a modicum of Fiat flair. Styling seems to be the work of Fiat do Brasil, whereas the Tipo is credited to Centro Stile in Turin. It’s a pity there isn’t more individuality – all three generations of Punto were “good pieces of industrial design”, before – in the case of the last two – being ruined by mid term facelifts in accordance with the Fiat Charter.

    1. Possibly relevant: TwinAir production ceased last month.

      Without knowing Fiat’s plans, I have to say I would be surprised if the Argo turns up in Europe. Developing-world models, such as the Punto sold in Brazil, might look the same as the European ones, but they are totally different (read: cheaper) underneath – the Lat-Am Punto rides on a variation of the Palio chassis, with accordingly lower standards for safety and dynamic sophistication. Given the confirmed target markets and the lack of serious talk about Europe, I have to assume Argo has been developed specifically for developing world markets. If it has been optimised for Lat-Am, there’s no chance Fiat can simply export it as-is – it will need some heavy-duty (i.e. expensive) re-engineering to make it acceptable for European standards. I haven’t seen anything to suggest this has been developed as a world car or that Fiat have anything of the sort in mind.

  6. Fiat themselves are tight-lipped about where the Argo will be sold. After Brazil, only Argentina is confirmed.

    There’s a lot of interest on the numerous Indian automotive websites, but at least one of the reports says that FCA would rather use the capacity at the Ranjangaon factory near Pune to build the far more profitable Jeep Compass.

    If production in India happens, there’s a slightly better prospect of sales in the UK and Ireland, but there’s no confirmation yet that the Argo will ever be sold in “sophisticated” European markets.

  7. Fiat is a dead man walking in North America, a joke. Exactly no one, not a soul, is speculating on what Marchionne and minions will bring us next in the Fiat lineup of the one-armed walking wounded. The dealers who put in the dedicated Fiat showrooms six years ago have already got past their red rage at wasting mounds of money in so doing. It was obvious after about 30 months that a miracle wasn’t going to happen, and the subsequent years have allowed them to cool off. But that means there’s about two who’re willing to put up with some new Marchionne guff story, and even fewer prepared to invest further. It’s a complete bust folks.

    And to sweeten the pot, FCA is flogging new RAM pickup trucks here in Canada at 25% off. No dickering with some incompetent salesman, no sir. Just look up the list price and deduct one-quarter. No haggling aside from trying to get the dealer to contribute a bit extra off his own margin. The company is desperate to move units to cover their fixed costs. Hard to imagine how any money is being made. And if it isn’t, then kiss your hopes of some new Fiat in Europe goodbye because that’s a complete loss from beginning to end without the barest hope of funding new models from “profits”. I put Fiat squarely at the very bottom bracket of car makers. The most out-of-date and worst put together. I know and it’s obvious that people here of goodwill like to natter on about this no-hope outfit and what leftover scraps might be welded together to provide a new Fiat model. I’m fine with that now and then, but it seems to be a continually recurring daydream. Surely it’s all just an interesting mind game rather than a discussion of reality though.

    Of far more interest, the people who are poised to break open the Indian market are Renault Nissan, now the third largest vehicle maker after Toyota and VW. The man who worked out how to make Dacias for half the cost of Renaults is at the age of 71, leading the effort to halve the cost again in Chennai with the Renault Kwid. And there is a superb article on Daily Kanban/Forbes that details what he’s up to, and how he does it. This new Renault costs about $4.1K, has aircon standard and is not a motorized four-wheeled blow-moulded plastic cart like the Tata Nano without real wheel-bearings. They’re after Suzuki Maruti who have 48% of the market. GM in its infinite lack of wisdom has left Europe, South Africa and India, not that they were selling much in the latter two places, but they haven’t the brains to do what Nissan Renault are up to in the first place. They’re stuck in a rut of conformity and corporate gobbledegook. All the side players in India are going to be tripped up, Fiat among them. The latter has one good model worldwide and Mazda makes it for them. Given that India is the next big motorized market, leaving it would seem to be the brainless thing to do.

    http://dailykanban.com/2017/05/true-disruptors-auto-industry-118-year-old-carmaker-71-year-old-man-4100-car/

    1. Isn’t there some talk that the Fiat brand is going to be axed in India in favour of Jeep? But I must confess I am out of the loop these days.

  8. Stradale – I’ve found the story of the cessation of TwinAir production last month elsewhere, but no official statement from Fiat, perhaps unsurprisingly given that the engine has been in production for less than seven years, and has rotundly failed to gain the trust or enthusiasm of the buying public.

    The lightly facelifted 500L announced a couple of days ago has the 105PS TwinAir listed as the middle petrol engine option, between two 1.4 litre FIREs. I shouldn’t be surprised if there’s a substantial stockpile laid down at Bielsko-Biala, given the intended production capacity of 450,000 per annum. (Absurdly ambitious production targets have long been a feature of the Fiat Charter)

    What is known is the positive story of a 265 million Euro investment in Bielsko-Biala to produce the Firefly / GSE engine in three and four cylinder versions from 2018. Put two and two together and it’s clear the TwinAir is doomed as the “Global Small Engine” moves in. Incidentally the TwinAir is also known as SGE (Small Gasoline Engine), suggesting an ambition to replace the FIRE in most of its applications.

    The investment in Fiat’s Polish operations is good news for a workforce which has been kicked in the teeth by Sergio’s favouring of Italy for the Panda (moved from Tychy to Pomigliano d’Arco – Italy’s Linwood) and Renegade / 500X built at Melfi. The Ka’s gone too, and the indefatigable White Hen is no longer available in the land where it is produced.

  9. I simply don’t understand why FIAT lost interest in its Punto? GM Europe still sell its cousin Corsa by the hundred thousand. Furthermore, its the more reliable of the pair despite being the least developed. The market segment is still hugely significant. The platform is widely used and still being developed. The FIAT brand is renowned for cheerful small cars. This model has never had any known issues or concerns to blot it copy book. So why be lazy and ignore it when volume along with dealer margins is crucial?

    1. Put like that, Fiat’s decision is akin to Ford giving up on the Fiesta or Renault the Clio. One plausible answer is that after six years the investment was repaid and even at their lowish volumes every car makes a good profit. Ford and others may sell lots more units but with rotten margins. Fiat’s game is risky as you lose customers who will buy another car. Every Ford sold is a chance for repeat custom. When and if Fiat does give the world the new Punto it will have to be brilliant to get conquest sales. It’s easier to sell again than the first time.

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