Endgame

The fate of the Punto epitomised FIAT’s decline into irrelevance.

Image: parkers.co.uk

For the millennials amongst DTW’s readership, it must be barely conceivable that FIAT was once the largest manufacturer of passenger cars in Europe, an automotive powerhouse with a full range that stretched from the diminutive 126 runabout to the luxury 130 saloon, between which extremes were a multiplicity of saloon, estate, hatchback, coupé and convertible models. FIAT’s market presence was strongest at the smaller end of this spectrum and its 127 model of 1971 was the definitive modern supermini, or at least it became so when, a year after launch, it received the hatchback it was so clearly destined to have.

All the elements were there: a transverse engine with end-on gearbox driving the front wheels, making for a compact powertrain that allowed passenger space to be maximised. At around 3.6 metres in length, it was about half a metre longer than Alec Issigonis’s packaging marvel, the original 1959 Mini, but it put that extra length to good use, providing more than tolerable accommodation for four adults to travel a good distance, something that was beyond the scope of the BMC car. The 127 was voted European Car of the Year in 1972.

Image: classic-trader.com/uk

With an Italian(1) production life of twelve years, the 127 was deservedly highly successful, although FIAT defaced it horribly with a clumsy second facelift in 1981. Thankfully, a replacement was by then little over a year away. The 127 was looking rather decrepit by the end of its life, but FIAT came roaring back with the 1983 Uno, a very smart and entirely contemporary looking supermini designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro at Italdesign. The Uno was just 50mm (2”) longer than the 127, but a similar increase in height and a much more upright tailgate gave it significantly more space for passengers and their luggage. The Uno was voted European Car of the Year in 1984.

Like its predecessor, the Uno remained in production in Italy(2) for a dozen years, during which time it received one significant facelift, which slightly undermined the purity of the original design, but not seriously so. The Uno, although now facing greater competition from other automakers who had entered the market segment, remained a strong seller throughout its life.

Image: cararac.com

The Uno’s replacement was the 1993(3) Punto. The change of moniker was a surprise, given the equity that had been accumulated in the Uno name. Presumably, this was driven by the need to distinguish the new model clearly from its predecessor, which remained in production and on sale in overseas markets. Again designed by Giugiaro(4), the Punto adopted the 1990s fashion for more curvaceous, organic styling, albeit constrained somewhat by the supermini envelope. It was a significant 115mm (4½”) longer(5) than its predecessor and increased in height by 45mm (1¾”) maintaining the proportions and stance of the Uno.

Image: favcars.com

Like both its predecessors, the Punto was voted European Car of the Year in 1995, narrowly defeating another supermini, the Volkswagen Polo Mk3, into second place. The competition was intensifying but the Punto was still amongst the class-leaders. It remained on the market for six years without significant alteration before being replaced by a second-generation model in 1999.

The new Punto was something of a surprise to behold. Although only marginally bigger than its predecessor, to the extent that it could have been a heavy re-skin (which it wasn’t), Giugiaro’s smooth curves were replaced by something more akin to austere and functional industrial product design. Its predecessor’s glazed third light on five-door models was deleted in favour of a broad C-pillar. The door mirror mounting was left in body-colour, rather than being covered by a black plastic sail panel. Both changes smacked of cost-cutting.

Under the skin, there was further evidence of a hunt for savings. The outgoing model’s independent trailing-arm rear suspension was replaced by a simpler and cheaper torsion beam set-up, which was, in fairness to FIAT, the supermini class norm. The Punto continued to sell strongly, and total production passed the five-million mark in 2003.

Image: parkers.co.uk

In the same year, FIAT revised the Punto to give it a much more assertive face, with large dual headlamp units and, for the first time on any Punto, a conventional front grille(6). The high-level taillights, another Punto signature, were extended onto the tailgate. To this author’s eyes, the rather blingy new front-end sat somewhat uncomfortably with the design’s otherwise rather austere appearance.

Just two years later, as Italian Punto production passed the six-million mark, the Punto was joined by a new and larger third-generation model, called Grande Punto. The new supermini marked a return to Giugiaro for its styling, and a return to form for FIAT as it was a notably handsome design, with its pronounced wedge shape and swept back ‘fingernail’ headlamps.  The Grande Punto was an all-new design and shared its platform with the 2006 Opel / Vauxhall Corsa D.

Image: carsinvasion.com

Both Punto and Grande Punto remained in production alongside each other for five years. With the imminent termination of the second-generation Punto, FIAT took the opportunity to facelift and rename the Grande Punto in 2009. Now called the Punto Evo, it was most easily recognised by the repositioning of the front grille and the addition of a broad chrome strip across its nose with the FIAT badge at its centre. This was meant to create a familial resemblance to the 500, launched in 2007 and already highly successful, but it just looked awkward on the Punto. Some wag remarked that it resembled the moustache of Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie’s fictional Belgian detective.

Thankfully, FIAT had a change of heart after little over two years and facelifted the Punto again, returning its front end to something that resembled the 2005 original so closely that only an automotive-obsessive with too much time on their hands(7) would be able to tell the difference between the two. Separate turn indicators below the headlamps is the easiest recognition point for the facelifted car, which was neither ‘Grande’ nor ‘Evo’ but simply Punto, FIAT seeing the error it’s ways in this regard also. The existing engine line-up was augmented with the lusty Twin-air unit from the 500, a turbocharged twin-cylinder engine which produced highly impressive fuel economy figures in official WLTP tests but was rather less impressive in real-world driving conditions.

Image: evo.co.uk

From this point onward there were no significant alterations or improvements. From 2015, the Punto was only available in Europe in five-door form, the three-door going the way of many competitors’ superminis. The Twin-air and diesel engines were dropped, leaving potential buyers a choice of just two petrol engines and two trim levels.

The Punto remained in production in Europe until 2018, a total run of thirteen years, which was exceptionally long for a car in its market segment, especially in the absence of any major updates. What had been a thoroughly competent and competitive car in 2005 was pretty outdated by 2018. In the end, it simply died from the neglect of its maker and indifference bred from over-familiarity for potential customers. Unforgivably, FIAT had no replacement in development and simply abandoned the mainstream B-segment(8) altogether, just as it had done when its larger models had come to the end of their production lives. The current FIAT Panda, already on the market for over a decade with no replacement in sight, seems to be heading for the same fate.

The story of FIAT’s decline can be told most strikingly in the following table, charting the Punto’s European sales(9) over the past quarter of a century:

Year: Sales:
1997 581,070
1998 560,554
1999 442,866
2000 550,639
2001 541,274
2002 418,118
2003 361,856
2004 328,603
2005 269,022
2006 401,625
2007 377,783
2008 279,134
2009 327,447
2010 267,248
2011 220,545
2012 135,235
2013 104,000
2014 86,955
2015 79,202
2016 62,654
2017 49,688
2018 29,442
2019 480
2020 27

Who is responsible for this disaster? The late Sergio Marchionne, who was appointed CEO of FIAT S.p.A. in 2004 and was the driving force behind the 2014 FIAT-Chrysler merger that formed FCA, must bear much of the blame. Marchionne, who remained at the FCA helm until his untimely death in 2018, began his professional career as a tax specialist at the accounting firm, Deloitte & Touche. Always a ‘numbers’ rather than a ‘car’ man, he was much more comfortable with financial rather than mechanical engineering and that was his prime, some would say sole, focus at FCA. In fairness to Marchionne, however, the rot had set in at FIAT long before his arrival: its model range and European market share had been in retreat for some time, from 9.91%(9) in 1990 to 5.48% in 2003.

Image: independent.co.uk

Merging two struggling and heavily indebted automakers in an attempt to make one even bigger company that was viable and sustainable was always going to be a big ask in a market clogged with overcapacity. Marchionne certainly strengthened the combined balance sheet and significantly reduced FCA’s debt burden, but he did so by dramatically scaling back on new product development. The results of this were seen on both sides of the Atlantic: Chrysler, once a full-line automaker, is now reduced to just two models, the Pacifica minivan and 300C sedan, while Dodge has only the Charger sedan, Challenger coupé and Durango SUV to sustain it. With the exception of the Pacifica, all of these models are now over a decade old.

The gradual but inexorable decline of FCA made it an easy target for a takeover by PSA, announced in late 2019 but not finalised until January 2021. What hope there might be for any revival of FIAT under Stellantis remains to be seen but, with sixteen brands to manage in its portfolio and FIAT bringing nothing distinctive to the table other than the 500, the odds are not good. FIAT’s European market share in 2021 was 3.98% and the bulk of its sales were of the 500 model. This raises the possibility that ‘500’ may be spun off as a sub-brand(10), but the chances of there still being FIAT-branded passenger cars on the European market by the middle of this decade seem vanishingly small(11).

(1) Overseas production of the 127 would continue until 1996 in Argentina.

(2) Overseas production of the Uno would continue until 2014, this time in Brazil.

(3) Italian production of the Uno and Punto continued simultaneously between 1993 and 1995.

(4) Giugiaro’s Punto submission was actually a design rejected by Renault for the 1990 Clio supermini.

(5) This was in line with the gradual growth in size of average supermini dimensions.

(6) The first and pre-facelift second-generation Punto featured an engine air intake incorporated into the lower front bumper moulding.

(7) Yes, that would be your author.

(8) The long-lived FIAT 500 is, broadly speaking, a B-segment car but its retro-chic looks and limited accommodation for passengers and their luggage prevents it being a mainstream competitor in this market segment, at least in the view of this author.

(9) Sales and market share data from www.carsalesbase.com.

(10) The badging on the 500e, where ‘500’ has replaced the FIAT badge at the front, suggests that this is a real possibility.

(11) Unless FIAT was repositioned as a ‘value’ competitor to Dacia, aimed primarily at developing markets, as appears to be the case with the current C-segment Tipo / Egea hatchback, saloon and estate. This seems to be the only possibility for its continued existence.

 

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

57 thoughts on “Endgame”

  1. A tale of the modern age. Spend all your time and money on machinations to keep the dividends or share price up for your fickle shareholders and end up not leaving enough cash and expertise to continue improving your products in a competitive market.

    Literally killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

    1. “I have looked into the costs and inputs for the goose and while the outputs in terms of golden eggs are considerable, I can see room for savings on the input side. As of tomorrow the goose will be fed only twice a day with a new, cheaper feed. Heating will be turned down as much as possible and the night-time guard seems to be un-needed by dint of the lack of evidence for fox attacks in the last two months. The fence does not need to be maintained as it is in good condition today. I expect golden egg laying will not be affected by these savings either today or tomorrow and so I think it is safe to say that despite less food, less safety and less warmth, the goose will keep laying valuable eggs well into the foreseeable future. I award mysefl a pay rise of three golden eggs. Thank you.”

  2. The Uno might have looked like a clever idea but it wasn’t. It started the trend for cars to grow in the dimension they shouldn’t – in the vertical.
    By making people sit higher their lower legs are more vertical (stepping on the pedals from above rather than pushing against them horizontally) and need less room length-wise.
    You pay for it by a higher centre of gravity with all consequences.
    To prevent the Uno from making passengers sea sick suspension travel had to be short, to give it a high resonance frequency to prevent it from toppling over in corners it needed a hard suspension setup. Combined these two features made the Uno feel like a small car from decades before with very little comfort when at the same time French competitors honed comfort of their 205s to the point that it put many larger cars to shame.
    The Punto’s trailing arm suspension looked like a progress only on paper. Trailing arm geometry added the characteristic jack-up effect (body roll in corners makes the wheel on the outside go up less than the inside wheel goes down, making the car’s end go upwards as a whole leading to a couple of unwanted side effects) and to keep this under control suspension travel had to be short and springs had to be stiff. Limitations of this design were shown by the barchetta that handled its additional power far better than it should have done in theory simply because it could be set up more compliant due to its lower centre of gravity.
    The Punto also had a weird seating position. Between the seat runners and the actual seat was a metal box that moved longitudinally with the seat and was about fifteen or twenty centimetres high. This made you feel like sitting on an inverted bucket. For a very short time we had a Punto Mk1 60 SX but this was miles away from the fun you’d expect from driving an Italian car and what a 127 could provide.

    1. Sorry Dave, but I couldn’t disagree more. Raising the height of a vehicle doesn’t necessarily raise the centre of gravity, provided that it is properly engineered (double-deck buses, for example, undergo a tilt-test in the UK before being certified as fit for purpose – you wouldn’t believe the angle to which they can be tilted before falling over). The higher seating position is ergonomically superior, makes better use of interior space and is easier to enter/exit – as one discovers when transporting elderly relatives. And re-discovers when one’s own joints begin to stiffen….

      And if the the Uno wasn’t a clever design, why did LJKS like it so much?

    2. “By making people sit higher their lower legs are more vertical (stepping on the pedals from above rather than pushing against them horizontally) and need less room length-wise.
      You pay for it by a higher centre of gravity with all consequences.”

      This. I always find incredibly uncomfortable to drive most MPVs due to the high seating position/vertical legs/step on the throttle. My right ankle hurts me after 30 minutes of motorway driving. However my old Prelude, with its low seat and stretched legs and arms driving position, was rather nice, I did 500 kms trips without complain (even the 120 kph/4000 rpm in 5th cruise was tolerable). Of course, LJK Setright waxed lyrical about his Prelude(s) and its low c-o-g…

      Perhaps in a supermini like the Uno, used mostly on short trips, that driving position can be bearable, but for me it´s unacceptable in any other kind of car.

  3. Carlos Tavares strikes me as somewhat of a brand fetishist having created DS Automobiles out of thin air, had his fun with Opel/Vauxhall, and now he gets 12 more brands to have his way with! Can’t wait for that new Delta, inevitably another variation on the 308/C4/DS4/Astra theme, and maybe we’ll get a C-segment Fiat out of it too!

    1. Good morning Alexander. Here in Europe we have had a C-segment FIAT since 2015, the Tipo/Egea, but it’s all but invisible, at least in the UK:

      Here are its European sales numbers:

      2016 – 60,286
      2017 – 123,762
      2018 – 102,341
      2019 – 84,789
      2020 – 53,452
      2021 – 38,673

    2. Does that even count? Isn’t it intended for ‘developing markets’ as some neo-Palio style project? It just reeks of FCA blah and looks nearly like a hatch version of the outgoing Dodge Dart we got on that platform.

    3. The Tipo is very minimalistic – but also suprisingly good enough to justify it’s existence. Definitely not just a developing market car – it’s more like a C-segment Dacia, the audience are the people who sit into a Golf or Astra and get confused by the sheer number and complexity of gadgets. Yet the Tipo has good handling, suspension, comfort – it’s not an outdated design by any means, especially now after the refresh as it received the Firefly engine family (which should have arrived ages ago). It’s very bland and unimaginative – especially for a FIAT, but the car ranks very high in terms of price/value ratio. That sad I believe this time it’s not FIAT’s fault that these days the market doesn’t have much apetite for cars that are worth the penny, it lacks every premium characteristics -an area that models like the Renault Mégane or the Škoda Octavia progressed a lot in the past decade.

    4. I see, though by my reckoning I would classify most Dacias also as developing-market cars since they are sold as Renaults there. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean it as a disparaging term, rather I just find it interesting to trace automakers’ intentions with certain models and the markets that they are aimed for. I think the true issue is that the Tipo doesn’t stand for ‘Fiat’ as we think it should, in that Fiat historically pushed the ‘Modern’ envelope with each new C-segment offering (last several excepted) but now they are just generic little FCA cars ready to have any badge slapped on the front (Dodge, Fiat, whatever). I read that the Tipo was co-developed with Tofaş in Turkey which may explain part of its lack of ‘Fiat’-ness, but to offer it as Fiat’s only C-segment offering seems like a sign of defeat for Fiat.

    5. I actually saw a 221 Registered Tipo in Kerry today, presume it was a rental as depreciation would make it unattractive for a private punter.

  4. The elephant in the room is that the people who once would have purchased these cars in Europe can no longer afford to. No-one likes to discuss this. Everyone pretends the elephant will go away if he isn’t spoken about.

  5. Fiat’s history shows that finance’s rule over engineering companies ends badly. Even if the company improves its performance in the short term, it leads to its demise in the long term. The most extreme example is Boeing, which turned from a company focused on advanced engineering with a great reputation into a shadow of its power, watered by austerity and cost cutting. Boeing’s financial performance was good for several years, until planes started going down. Those who were going to make money made money. That’s generally the bigger problem with today’s economy, short-termism and a focus on quick profits is deadly.

    The Fiat Grande Punto alone was proof that back in 2005 Fiat could make extremely competitive products. An interesting path Fiat has gone down in my country. At the turn of the century it was completely dominant in Poland, with the Seicento accounting for over 13% of new car sales in the country. Currently, Fiat almost ceased to exist in Poland, it is not present in the TOP 15 (!) brands, it is overtaken by Volvo, Mercedes, BMW, and Audi. During this time, the structure of the Polish market has changed, and premium cars started to have a very strong position, also the average price of a new car has increased dramatically. Nevertheless, Toyota, Ford and mostly Skoda are still in the lead. Fiat does not and probably will.

    1. Good point. Look at GM which is more accountancy-driven than Ford. A counter example is Peugeot which is a fairly unsentimental firm but has done very well, I think (even if don´t care for a lot of their products). Toyota? That company sits in a sweet spot because they seem to be so really good at avoiding sensible-shoes planning from yielding wobbly turkeys.

    2. Or look at the direction formerly engineering-driven VW has taken under the lead of an ex-purchasing director (which tend to be the worst penny pinchers of all).

  6. The 127 at least had the reputation for good handling (not sure if the Yugo’s bad rep was due to age or how it was adapted by Zastava), one would have expected Fiat to have further built upon the 127’s virtues with the Uno and Punto. Whereas the 128, Ritmo/Strada, Tipo and Bravo/Brava did not appear to suffer such a dramatic decline on the dynamic front prior to the Stilo.

    Could Fiat have improved the suspension of both the Uno and Punto at minimum to better challenge their period rivals like the 205 and Clio respectively? As the Uno was originally said to have been as Project 144 Lambda developed by Lancia before it was appropriated by Fiat and reworked into Project 146 Uno, would Fiat have been better off sticking with their own Project 143 that they ditched (and reputedly sold off) in favour of Project 144?

    Btw how much of the Cinquecento / Seicento was actually derived from the Uno (since the Honest John article described it as a down-scaled Uno)?

    1. I’ve heard it said that the first-generation Nissan Micra/March was developed from a rejected contender for the 127 replacement. Perhaps that was Project 143.

    2. The first gen Micra / March did indeed make use of a recycled rejected Giugiaro/Italdesign styling proposal for the Fiat Uno.

      As for the initial Project 143 that was sold off by Fiat, have seen claims of it being sold off to Skoda which is unlikely since the initial Skoda 780 was developed in-house as a Golf-sized car despite offers from both Fiat and Renault.

      The claim was of Project 143 being sold to have been Zastava for what became the Yugo, however the latter appears to be more or less a SWB 127 and of course a much smaller car than what was planned for the 127 replacing Uno.

    3. As I recall, Fiat began to move away from its traditionally stiffly sprung ‘sporting’ handling towards a softer, more compliant ride with the 1978 Ritmo (Strada in the UK) which replaced the 128. The Uno followed suit in 1983.

    4. The Ritmo can be said to have further built upon the 128’s virtues with the hot hatch models being considered very underrated back in the day.

      However neither the Uno (or Y10) nor Punto had such a reputation, though would argue the downward trend began with the Panda. The Cinquecento was somewhat of an improvement relative to the Panda (and of course the 126) yet no match for a Ford Ka in terms of dynamics.

  7. The mk1 Punto is such a lovely clean design, one that I took for granted and only recently started to appreciate.

    What’s interesting about the mk2 is the use of different rear ends for the 3 and 5 door versions. Was there a “real” reason for this?

    I also find it quite interesting how similar the mk3’s front end is to the Maserati 3200 GT, another Giugiaro design. I wonder how the people in Maserati felt about that…

    1. Hi boarezina. I hadn’t noticed before but you’re right, the Punto Mk2 did have have a different rear profile (and rear lights) in three and five-door forms:


      I guess FIAT wanted to give the three door a more ‘dynamic’ profile with its upswept waistline. They did eexactly the same with the contemporary Stilo.

  8. Good morning Daniel! It is strange that for all the cars that feature in your article, I have been inside as a passenger. I will try to describe my experiences in a forthcoming post.

  9. Good morning Daniel. We had a couple of Punto Mk 1’s and found them to be excellent cars for our needs at that time. Spacious, good looking, comfortable and enjoyable to drive. Our two children had them after passing their tests and “finished them off”…
    Where did it all go wrong?

  10. One is torn between two different impressions:
    – total mismanagement, focus on short term goals, without recognition of the needs and direction of long term planning and product design
    – changing marketplace, and an earlier position of strength disappeared as a result of larger forces of change.

    Not really sure which of these is the dominant strand; probably both are in evidence, and intertwined. But one has to wonder about how powerhouses are reduced to weakness, if not irrelevance.

    1. I don’t think you have to look far Geoff. Look at the demise of the UK manufacturing base as an example for instance.

    1. The logical consequences of the nonsensical fairy tales of the blessings of the service oriented econonomy in which we all earn our money by providing mutual haircuts instead of doing silly old fashioned stuff like produce things.

    2. The central fallacy of the kind of globalisation we´ve seen is to do with comparative advantage. Ricardo suggested this idea in the context of a single economy not in inter.state trade. Some economies let manufacturing work be exported to low wage states and assumed the boosted GDP of the exporting country would raise living standards for all. It didn´t. Big increases in GDP and corporate profits went in parallel with wage stagnation.
      Fiat´s a special case though. It´s fate is strongly tied up with the politics of its home country as well as other international factors. I suppose Italian governments felt having one single big car company would help more than having three smaller ones. In the event they just put off the fateful day when Italy´s structural problems had their final effect.

  11. I remember a Seat 127 I had been inside once, many years ago, as a cheerful place to be. A white 3 door. Simple and elegant, with aesthetics to appeal to low and high income users. With fresh light coming in nicely from the large windows. It was very popular here. The Fiat Uno was very popular here, in an other sense than the Fiat 127. The Fiat 127 fulfilled the role of the family car, whereas the Fiat Uno was the second family car, or the car of a person that had not a family to transport. The ecomony had boomed, and people had more money to spend in cars. A friend had a Tipo-style Uno 3 door, grey, and I remember it was very spacious and had a nice and clever dashboard. He claimed having accomplished two house changes with it. The Uno carried all his furniture with ease. His other, larger cars couldn’t. He sold it in the 2000s and still regrets his action.

  12. The Fiat Uno Turbo was not easy to find, it was expensive for a small car then and here. Most of the Unos were the 1.0 fire version, or the 1.0 sting with the old engine. According to the discussion raised above, between the Fiat and the Peugeot, it is difficult for me to distinguish between them, the Uno and the 205. I like them both.

    1. I´ve never been in an Uno. I can only guess at its road behaviour. The 205 had quite remarkable handling in the base model I used to drive, with great suspension. The downsides were all inevitable given its price and so are forgiven. Of all the cars I drove it was the most entertaining. On reflection, I realise I could not use the car´s fun potential. When I drove it the roads were less densely traficked and I was not as mindful of the consequence of stupid driving behaviour. It´s a wonder I didn´t end up as a kidney donor and a fatality statistic. I expect the Uno is a chuckable car; I don´t expect its steering was much more than adequate or its suspension more than quite good. Lightness would be its main advantage?

    2. The 205 had typical Peugeot road manners. It combined typically supple low speed ride mostly thanks to their homemade shock absorbers with comfortable spring (not to mention its very capable handling). In combination with some of its engines – particularly the XU diesel – the result was an astonishingly grown-up long distance car. Its let down was the primitive interior.
      The Uno was the other way round. Its interior made you feel much better than in the Peugeot but its undoing was the (lack of) suspension comfort and the lack of gown up engines.

      In the Eighties my sister was looking for a supermini-sized car. Her shortlist was Corsa, Uno and 205. The Corsa was out after the shortest imaginable test drive. After taking both the Uno and the 205 for a somewhat longer drive outside city limits her preference clearly was the Peugeot for its long legged comfort.

  13. The Punto mk3 was a large car for its market segment, with lots of space. A friend had a 1.4 turbo, whith 140hp, he is a keen driver, and he said that the car was fast and its power and handling never let him down. There were some electronic faults with sensors, and the dealers were not able to correct them. In 2020 he was searching for a replacement, and he could not find any Italian car to suit his needs. He is a sworn lover of Italian cars.

  14. Excellent post and comments. I can only add that a work colleague recently bought a twelve year old model for £895 as a means for transporting his tools (craftsperson). Steve is a big lad and the boot is full but he’s had no issues but admits the car takes “some getting going.”

    So, as an excuse to post a 127 video, here’s Remy ;

    And for those with nine minutes to spare, a Fiat made Punto video:

    1. I also drive in a jacket but then again I am also known to cycle all day in a jacket and tie. One summer I discovered one did not need to don lycra and fleece to cycle long distances. I have never looked back!

  15. Thank you for this great piece, Daniel. The sales charts are indeed shocking and telling; Fiat clearly dropped the ball in a game it once owned. There’s something I’d really like to see, though, in a future post: a comparison of the annual sales targets per Fiat Group/FCA brand that Marchionne himself was setting – especially for the Italian firms – vs the actual annual sales. I have a feeling that a Board of Directors that actually cares about the fate of the firm(s) would do either of the following:
    1. Take a look at the actual market trends and the engineering and strategic marketing (i.e.new product launches) he green-lighted and sack him for being delusional.
    2. Compare the projected sales to the actual ones and then sack him.

    I also remember how he blamed the workers at the Italian plants for not producing enough cars compared to their Polish counterparts; that the Italian workers worked at plants that made the slow-selling MiTo and Grande Punto, while the Polish made the 500 that was selling like hot cakes didn’t matter to him, or the business publications that worshipped his cold-induced nasal ejecta.

  16. Thank you, Daniel, for this overview of the demise of a marque: unchecked short-term-ism and marketing bring disaster. Like everything, they need to be kept in check: marketing does help sell things after all, and short-term gains can help motivate, or finance longer term plans. How very Zen: it’s all about the balance. Apart from being a bean counter, Marchionne also seemed to think that shouting his, err… “vision” very loudly was the best way to make it happen.

    There seems to have been a moment in the ‘noughties when two mainstream brand beginning with “F” had the notion to produce a supermini with the front end of a supercar relative from the same conglomerate (at that time at least). In the case of the other “F”, it proliferated across the entire line-up, but Fiat didn’t have much of a line up anymore. There was also a brand beginning with “A” and “R” that had the same notion, but now with the front end of its own halo model. Rather less successful styling wise, unfortunately.

    If I remember correctly, Tavares promised that Stellantis wouldn’t start culling brands for a few years, and actually invest in all of them, so new Fiats as mainstream offerings could still be on the cards. Longer term, however… Stellantis do seem to be a conglomerate that manages its many brands like micro-niches: where Audi, BMW or Merc just build ten slightly different models for the same market segments, Stellantis has some ten individual brands that are juuust different enough. Current evidence seems to suggest that it sort of works for Peugeot, Opel and Citroën, so maybe it’ll work for Fiat, Alfa and Lancia as well. One can hope, at least.

  17. Good evening all. Thank you for your kind words and interesting comments, and apologies that I have been a bit inattentive today, distracted with other tasks. Yes, FIAT’s decline from a position of such strength has been shocking. The Grande Punto was still wholly competitive in the B-segment when launched in 2005, but the company, inexplicably, seemed simply to surrender its position by not developing a successor. Was it not sufficiently profitable for Marchionne’s spreadsheets, one wonders? I cannot think of any other reason for just giving up.

    1. The Grande Punto was already developed on something of a budget with its shared underpinnings with the Corsa – before the rather hilarious divorce proceedings between GM and Fiat: “here’s a bag of money, go away please, Sergio”. The existence of a full Fiat line up in South America (where one would imagine standards to be a bit lower – both safety wise and for customer expectations) seems to hint at a different cost/reward balance that they can (could?) get to work in South America but not in Europe.

      Also, Marchionne used to harp on endlessly about the need for the car industry to consolidate whilst conspicuously failing to find a creditable partner. Boats were missed, I’d say, but the rot was there before the Grande Punto was developed. There probably wasn’t a partner available who’d share a platform for a Punto successor at the prices Marchionne was prepared to pay (a pack of gum, presumably).

  18. From what I can gather, Marchionne didn’t really see the point of the automotive industry – it was all a bit costly, with car companies ‘destroyers of capital’. He thought that as there was less and less differentiation within the industry, brands ought to merge to spread development costs as much as possible. With the emergence of Stellantis, his aim was partially achieved.

    The main point of being in business, at its best, is to achieve your dream of providing a new / significantly better offering. That’s where the money and profits come from – they are a byproduct, not the main outcome. Managing the slow decline of companies so that they can be rolled cheaply in to one another is pretty much the opposite of having that dream.

    https://blogs.cfainstitute.org/investor/2016/03/07/sergio-marchionne-has-seen-the-auto-industrys-future-hes-not-interested/

    https://windsorstar.com/business/marchionne-makes-pitch-for-industry-consolidation

  19. Auto Express/Auto Bild Group interviewed Fiat’s CEO earlier this year, once again suggesting that there will be a stylish 500 range, and a more practical Panda/Centoventi range. He mentions a focus on A- and B-segment vehicles, and that he prefers to use a name from the past. Possibly a revival of the Uno and/or Punto names?
    https://www.autoexpress.co.uk/fiat/panda/357106/new-fiat-panda-suv-set-launch-2023-electric-option

    As DTW is fond of special editions, I thought I’d mention one which may have passed unnoticed: the new 500 La Prima by [Andrea] Bocelli: https://www.fiat.com/500-electric/new-500-hatchback-la-prima
    (as with the 3+1 body, it seems that the Bocelli edition is not-for-UK)

    1. Thanks for the link, also Tom.

      From the interview: “Obviously the cars are going to be fundamentally different, but the underpinnings can be shared.” Yes. Well. Moving on.

      Other than that, it sounds reasonable and in line with what we’ve seen from PSA/Stellantis under Tavares: a very specific individual focus for each brand, but also a very tightly controlled technical structure designed to cut costs. As I wrote in another comment, it seems to work reasonable well for Peugeot, Citroen and Opel although inevitably, focus will shift and each brand will have ups and downs. Opel seems on the up right now; design wise, Peugeot seems to have reached its apex (given the new 308). If they can manage that at any given time enough brands are strong enough to support the whole thing and provide funds for the weaker brands to be trussed up (within reason), it might very well work.

      At least the current Stellantis management seem to have a plan, which is more than can be said for the Fiat group of more or less recent history. Or even mid-noughties Peugeot, frankly. It seems to me that one of the many traits good management needs to have is the ability to hatch and execute long term plans while keeping the short-termist financial market happy. Apple seems to be quite adept at that, for instance.

  20. Two different Fiat’s are the best-selling cars in the Argentinian and Brazilian markets. One being a B-segment 4 door and the other a pickup based on an A-segment hatchback

    1. Good morning Menda. The B-segment car you mention is the Argo:

      It looks a bit like the Ford Ka+. Here are the sales numbers:

      Year – Brazil – Argentina
      2017 – 27,925 – 1,636
      2018 – 52,900 – 20,468
      2019 – 79,001 – 8,865
      2020 – 65,937 – 4,688
      2021 – 84,644

      Isn’t it strange that a car that is a strong seller in Brazil apparently sells so poorly in Argentina? I’ve no idea how ‘joined up’ or otherwise FIAT’s operation in South America is.

  21. FCA North America has shown that you can keep a brand alive with one or two (preferably but not necessarily) tightly focused models as long as the dealer network has a full line of models to sell; with all the American brands in a combined Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram channel it doesn’t matter as much that Chrysler is down to the 300 and Pacifica.

    That could be a useful model for the European side. Burnishing Peugeot to its’ former “French Mercedes” status of D-segment cars with the Opel Astra as the C-segment entry and either Citroen or Fiat strictly a small-car brand while the other is the one for commercials which would not then be rebadged within Europe would all be possible if there was only one full-line Stellantis dealer in every town.

    1. That’s quite an interesting idea, nlpnt, but sixteen brands still looks about twice too many. Would western European customers be willing to buy the cheap entry-level only brand and forego the bragging rights of being able to say “I drive a BMW” even if its only a basic 1 Series?

    2. I´ve proposed the idea of marques having smaller, more focused ranges. This works best for larger, more prestigious cars where the absence of a smaller car doesn´t hurt the image. Makers of smaller, cheaper models suffer from the prestige deficit though (it´s a hypothesis) so a brand with four smaller cars has a bit of a battle when a brand with higher perceived value and prestige decides to move downmarket. These problems are more pressing when one company has multiple brands in the portfolio. If you are a stand alone brand you can do what you like in terms of market coverage. But when one firm owns five brands, then five full ranges of cars looks a bit tricky to sustain without the kinds of natural USPs and engineering differences that arise without platform and component sharting. This just goes to show that some brands don´t have much of a future under the umbrella of larger conglomerates.

  22. Hi Daniel, thanks for that
    The Fiat I referred to above was the Cronos, the 4 door sedan version of the Argo
    37500 units were built and sold in Argentina as to 2021, making it the #1 selling vehicle here

    Is there another car with such large A-pillars?

    1. Ah, I understand, Menda. It’s not the best looking FIAT I’ve ever seen!

      Here are the previous years’ sales numbers for the Cronos:

      Year – Brazil – Argentina
      2018 – 29,307 – 11,601
      2019 – 24,080 – 11,048
      2020 – 16,167 – 16,558

  23. Daniel mentioned the Tipo; as the Egea, it was the top-selling car in its homeland of Turkey last year (followed by Corolla, Clio, Megane, Civic). https://newstextarea.com/the-best-selling-cars-in-turkey-have-been-announced/

    It appears that the (Grande/Evo) Punto was adapted into an Indian-only crossover, with (optional?) rear-mounted spare wheel, called the Avventura. Part of the article suggests that Fiat India were considering export of the Avventura to other RHD markets. https://www.cardekho.com/india-car-news/fiat-india-launched-avventura-at-inr-599-lakh-14333.htm

  24. I can not understand why the Fiat Punto mk2 followed a different styling approach from the mk1. The mk1 seemed more correct and appealing. This is a general question. Why styling changes so fast, and why does it change direction.

    1. Fashion, sometimes enabled by technology, e.g. an advance in a minimum allowable radius without causing a tear in the metal, or the complexity of a compound curve. In the case of the E60 5 series, the latter type of advance resulted in uncharacteristically large shutline gaps around the bootlid. In the opposite case, Jaguar initially chose a six light greenhouse for the aluminium bodied X350 but they encountered manufacturing issues with that part of the design, so they went with a four light profile reminiscent of XJ4, which arguably amplified criticism that the design was backward looking.

      My question is related. Who asks for a cutline that zig-zags all over the A-pillar? Is there a name for this pestilent design trope? Fiat got this bit right with the Uno and for two generations of Punto, but that area of the mk3 Punto seems willfully ugly, and to what end?

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