Fiat UK boss Massimo Toso knows that his company has had a bad press. He's spent most of his time in the country reading it.

But it's an image the car company does not deserve, he says, and aims to prove it with the launch of the new Panda this month and the Idea in a month's time.

"We now have a very strong dealer network which I believe gives good service and is the best when it comes to supplying replacement parts. Anyone who goes into a Fiat dealership now will discover it is unrecognisable from just a short time ago."

Dealers have been concerned, said Toso, with the company's well-publicised difficulties back home in Italy. "But we have stuck together. We have lost only four dealers in the past 12 months and we hope to add another 20 in 2004 which will take the network up to 200."

He added: "We can now offer new, better quality cars. We have already introduced the [facelifted] Punto, now we have the Panda and the Idea arrives soon. We also have new diesel and petrol engines."

These vehicles Toso hopes, will push Fiat sales in the UK up to 80,000 this year, from 75,000 in 2003. The Panda will account for 10,000 sales.

Toso said: "We have been struggling with our image for the past couple of years and now we must concentrate our efforts on getting people into our dealers so we can show them the quality of our cars.

"In Italy, Fiat Auto has been struggling with its industrial plan but we have turned a corner. We are back although we have never really been away."