Fiat didn’t hold an official “Exhibitors Conference” on the first media day at this year’s Geneva Salon, but that didn’t prevent FCA’s CEO pronouncing on the future of Fiat’s European activities.
Sergio Marchionne declared that “for the 500, 500X and Panda it is worth pursuing, I am less in love with the Tipo, despite its sales success. We have to be careful how we distribute large amounts of capital. The Tipo is less encouraged, because that sector of the market is very crowded and not very profitable. It was a part of the market where Fiat traditionally was, but maybe we need to move forward”.
Eccentric shooting from the hip, or a clear vision for Fiat’s future?
Sergio may have a point. The Turkish-built Tipo is more in the spirit of Dacia than of Škoda, cobbled together from the hard-worked Corsa/Punto SCCS/Small platform, and a selection of less than cutting-edge Fiat powertrains. Its development costs were probably around what VAG are spending on the Golf Mk.8’s tailgate.
The product itself is cheap to buy, dynamically just about competent, well kitted, but somewhat behind the field on Euro NCAP scores; three stars in standard form, four stars if the ‘Safety Pack’ is specified.
Previous Fiat C-segment contenders have enjoyed the unequivocal support of the company’s management but, in this century at least, have been a constant disappointment in the tedious and vulgar matter of sales numbers.
There’s a clause in the Fiat Charter which says that the sales projections in this sector have to be set astronomically high, in the expectation that every potential customer will realise they would be a bloody fool to favour the Golf, Focus, or Astra over the new Bravareo, Stilo, or Bravo Redux.
It’s said that the Stilo was tooled for 450,000 cars a year. In its best year, 2002, 175,626 were sold in the EU/EFTA area. By 2016, its last full year, the number was 50,382. The Type 198 Bravo was even worse. It peaked at 93,371 in 2008, dwindling to 16,550 in 2012.
(There is another clause in the Fiat Charter that the popularity of every promising newcomer will wither and die around the middle of a normal sales cycle. The indefatigable 500 has defied the rules by posting 189,360 EU/EFTA sales in 2017, its best ever performance. It must be these tail-lights…)
By comparison, the technically and conceptually unambitious Tipo (Type 356/7/8) has been storming the ramparts with 123,767 EU/EFTA sales in 2017, to which should be added over 40,000 registrations in Turkey. Can Marchionne sacrifice these numbers in the cause of brand identity?
Sergio’s championing of the 500, 500X and Panda suggests a MINI-like future for Fiat in Europe, but how long can a brand survive on the blessed memory of a late ‘50s small car? Could the Panda design vocabulary be re-scaled into a convincing C-segment SUV – a Panda Gigante perhaps?
The Panda’s star has fallen somewhat since the brilliant Fiat Charter-defying Type 169, which peaked at nearly 300,000 sales in Europe in its second last year of full-scale production. The succeeding Type 319 has managed around 190,000 in each of the last two years.
There’s talk of moving Panda production to Tychy, on the specious notion that Stabilimento Giambattista Vico (as we must now call the former Alfasud production facility) would be put to better use making Alfas – Sergio has decreed that all of these have to be Italian-built.
If it comes to pass, Italy’s three best selling cars could come from Silesia, and possibly the fourth from Anatolia. For the broad mass of consumers even in Fiat’s home market, state of origin matters far less than it does to Sergio. Making the Panda beside the 500 and White Hen in Tychy makes eminent sense, more so as the new Firefly engine is to be produced in nearby Bielsko-Biała. Alfa are welcome to have the Neapolitan Linwood back.
Is there a plan behind all of this or is it just chaos dictated by expediency? And is there room for a Lancia revival somewhere along Fiat Europe’s new road? With the CEO’s capriciousness nothing can be ruled out.