Sunday 25 February 2018

A big ask for Fiat as sales stall

The success of the 500 is the one bright spot as the company struggles to build confidence, writes Martin Brennan

Martin Brennan

AFTER years of declining fortunes, despite moving into spacious new offices and taking Chrysler and Jeep on board, the new Fiat/Alfa Romeo boss in Ireland is hoping to kickstart the Italian company's fortunes next year. But French-born Yan Chabert has a big task on his hands to build confidence in Fiat's bread-and-butter models.

Fiat Ireland had losses of €3.8m last year, and this year SIMI figures indicate that, from January to September, the company registered only 442 new passenger cars, giving the marque a market share of 0.62 per cent. For Chrysler, there have been just 10 registrations, no new Jeep passenger registrations and just 13 Alfa Romeo registrations. These figures make dismal reading with poor rewards for the 20 dealers, many of which are now multi-franchise. It is a far cry from three decades ago when the company boasted healthy double-digit figures and a 14 per cent market share at one time.

But there is a growing bright side to the Fiat story. In recent years, the 500 mini model has created its own niche market in the same way as the MINI for the BMW group. Fiat has seized the opportunity to exploit the 500's success with a succession of derivatives, such as the 500L, a family MPV-style transporter. Prices here start at €21,750 with the 1.3-litre diesel version at €23,750.

And the list continues with a 500L Trekking for the great outdoors types. The distinctive rugged look has the practicality of a roomy SUV without weight drawbacks. The ESC traction system replaces 4X4 technology by constantly monitoring dynamics and sends torque to the wheels with the most grip. It comes with mud and snow tyres.

There is now also a 500S, an Abarth-inspired model, which is aimed at enthusiasts who want the affordability and low running costs of the 500 in an eye-catching and dynamic package. It comes with special bumpers and skirt, boot lid spoiler with the interior getting sports seats and steering wheel and red trim. Prices start at €15,195.

The latest model in the 500 series is the 500e, a battery electric vehicle, which will take less than four hours to charge up and has a range capability of 160 kms.

Also on the way is a 500X crossover and a Jeep that will share the same platform. The models are based on the 500L body. Expect 4x4 technology and a 1.6 Multijet and 900cc TwinAir petrol power plant in the engine line-up.

Meanwhile, on the Alfa Romeo side, there are also exciting developments. Mazda and Alfa Romeo are jointly building a roadster, which will be badged as the next MX-5 and Alfa Spider. There will be a shared platform but each will have its own brand of styling, engines and suspension settings.

Also on the Alfa Romeo front this month, there will be a presentation of upgrades in the Alfa Giulietta and the MiTo. The Giulietta gets a new 150 bhp diesel engine, suspensions have been tweaked, there is new infortainment technology, grille, dash, door panels, wheels and improved sports seats and luggage compartment. Petrol engines will have lower C02 output. The MiTo upgrades includes improved exterior trim and new interior styling to give it a more sophisticated feel.

And there is also a flagship model. Alfa Romeo has a new mid-engined supercar, which will be here in right-hand drive early next year. The C4 is expected to cost in the region of €80,000 and has a powerful 1.75 litre 240 bhp engine with emissions of just 157 g/km of C02.

Sunday Independent

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