Fiat is in its best position for more than 15 years, according to its UK managing director, but the dealer network needs to change to match recent sales success.

At the local launch of the Bravo Eco this week, Andrew Humberstone said that millions of pounds of investment in the brand was producing results that dealers now had to match and the network still needed much work.

He predicted that up to a fifth of Fiat's current 167 UK dealers could be replaced, alongside an intention to boost the overall network to 200 outlets by 2010.

"The technology, resources, marketing is there, the product quality is getting better and better, it has to be supported by the dealer network. It's now or never," Humberstone said.

Since January he has been on a mission to visit every one of Fiat's UK outlets, often arriving without warning. He told just-auto that he had so far been to two thirds of the network, and would complete his programme by the end of July.

Already he had identified a number of dealers that would need to be changed, a figure he said could be around 20%.

Others he described as 'hospital cases' needing major surgery to better represent the brand. However he added that many dealers were performing well and singled out the success of a new flagship outlet in Wigmore Street, London.

"We've had amazing success there - we have over 1,000 visitors a week walking into that facility."

Fiat is determined to improve its performance in annual monitors such as the JD Power customer satisfaction survey. The brand finished 28th and last in the latest UK survey with a CSI score of 77.4%.

Measures to counter this result include a new training programme for aftersales staff which Humberstone said he hoped to commence in the third quarter of the year.

"One of the fundamental issues I am working on with aftersales is 'fix it first time and fix it correctly', so the relationship between workshop and customer is significantly improved," he added.

Humberstone admitted that Fiat's problems could not entirely be laid at dealers' doors.

"Fiat has to take on some responsibility for where the dealer network is. The company was in trouble five years ago, it's come through that and the focus has to be on building the network."

Fiat's global results in 2007 presented a highly healthy picture of the group, which ended the year debt-free and with a trading profit of EUR3.2bn, the highest in its history.

Fiat sold 2.4m vehicles worldwide, its best result since 2000. Maserati enjoyed its first year of profit since 1993, the year the brand was acquired by Fiat, while Ferrari saw a 15% revenue increase and 45% increase in trading profit.

First-quarter results for 2008 appear to have continued the climb, being the best in the group's entire 109-year history, and Humberstone added that Fiat was now working towards achieving revenues in 2010 of EUR70bn and a trading profit of EUR5bn, 100 times the figure recorded in 2004.

Andrew Charman