Fiat’s geomorphic car crash hits another boulder with the axing of the Punto from UK shores.
There is a certain grim irony in the fact that Sergio Marchionne’s death was so abrupt and shocking, yet for so many former Fiat Group model lines for which he was responsible, the reaper’s approach continues at a glacial creep. Amidst the halls of Melfi, Mirafiori and Cassino, unconsolidated glacial debris have been noted for some time, but with this week’s announcement of the Punto’s withdrawal from the UK market, the terminal moraine edges closer.
It comes as something of a surprise that Fiat UK saw fit to offer the car to British customers until now, given its advanced age, lack of meaningful latterday development and its 2017 EuroNCAP rating of zero, believed to be the first in the organisation’s history. Mind you, given the Grande Punto’s 5-star rating at launch, it perhaps says as much about the current nature of the NCAP testing regime as any truly grievous safety failings on Fiat’s part.
Not that UK sales could have been anything but derisory; indeed combined European sales for the model are in a state of near-collapse, with only 20,165 listed as sold in the year to June. It is believed the Punto will continue in production for a time yet, although its withdrawal from major European markets also appears imminent. It is however still sold in India, both as a toughened version of the standard car and as the Avventura, a pseudo-crossover.
Fiat spokespeople have informed journalists that the Punto’s Melfi plant is to be refitted in anticipation of a forthcoming compact Maserati-branded crossover being assembled there, in compliance with FCA’s stated aim to remove non-premium priced model lines from all Italian car plants.
Should we care about the Grande Punto’s demise? After all it was hardly a ground breaker at its 2005 launch. By then, Fiat was after all a car company whose best days were well behind them. Nevertheless, it ought to be commemorated for a number of reasons. As Fiat’s final class-competitive B-segment contender. As a (by Fiat standards), robust and well-regarded car, one which appeared to lack much in the way of serious durability issues.
As a truly well crafted piece of contemporary industrial design; believed to have been largely the work of carrozzeria Bertone (centre section), but completed by Ital Design, (said to have been responsible for the nose and tail). As the recipient of one of the worst facelifts in the history of the Fiat Charter™, and as a car which was kept in production well past its fitness for the purpose.
The Punto sat smack in the sweet spot of the market where volume and scale is virtually assured, assuming one got the fundamentals right. It remains one of the late Mr. Marchionne’s more perplexing decisions that he jettisoned Fiat’s traditional heartland by starving the car of development and abandoning any idea of a direct replacement.
But all of this is irrelevant in our post-Marchionne debris-field. The Punto’s market has since stratified into a few market leaders and a bunch of numbers-makers. Margins are falling like boulders. FCA, perhaps presciently re-engineered the Punto platform to underpin the 500X and Jeep Renegade crossovers, which together were intended to make up to the bulk of the European volume lost to the Punto’s arrest. Which would be fine were they succeeding at the task.
But it’s too late to change direction now. Glaciers have only one direction of travel and with Fiat UK’s offer shrinking inexorably as it carves its swathe, how soon before the British market too is seen as being no longer worth the effort or expense?
Sales data source: carsalesbase.com