Having reduced Fiat to being a force in only Brazil and Italy, FCA is playing a waiting game. A 500 has been announced for Europe but it’s an EV only and next year’s new Panda might well be too. Against that, there hasn’t been much fresh product for the Brazilian market, the brand has been pulled from China and India too, with the US and Canada probably next. If the merged FCA-PSA goes ahead, what becomes of Fiat?
Looking at how FCA has been treating the Fiat brand for many years, last year’s 14.9 per cent record low share of the Italian market should have surprised no-one. Fiat’s loss has been Volkswagen’s gain, the number two marque moving up to a 9.2 per cent stake thanks to the T-Roc, Polo and even the Golf. Yes, Italians do buy C segment models (3,046 Tipos were registered last month) although small hatchbacks such as the Panda and Lancia Ypsilon along with the Fiat 500X and Dacia Duster B-SUVs are what most people want.
Dacia, which has crashed all across Europe in the first few months of 2020 (-30% in Italy in February) due to its vehicles’ relatively high C02 averages, had a sensational 2019 in Fiat’s home market, the Duster surging by 58 per cent to become the number three model overall, just beating the 500X. The Jeep Renegade wasn’t far behind either, so overall, FCA is still doing well in Italy and in fact, the Fiat brand rebounded in February, taking a 17.1 per cent share thanks to strong performances from the Panda and 500.
Longer term, you do wonder what FCA intends to do with Fiat, and that applies whether or not the merger with Groupe PSA goes ahead. The brand could eventually become Italy-only, as has happened to Lancia, while the Brazilian business, which is still substantial, could steadily be adjusted in favour of locally made Jeeps as well as a few Fiat pick-ups and SUVs.
If the bet on convincing Italians and other Europeans that the third generation 500 is worth its high pricing pays off, then Fiat will survive, and thrive. If it fails, then VW will keep on inching up towards where the number one brand is today.
The latest generation 500 (‘New 500‘), which grows by 6cm in length and width, was revealed last week. It goes on sale in the summer, initially in high-priced launch edition form only. For now, only the cabrio has been shown, the hatchback set to premiere at a second special event on 4 July.
Production starts at Mirafiori in June, FCA executives having recently stated that the Turin factory will make 14,000 units of the New 500 this year and some 80,000 in 2021. An as yet unseen Giardiniera (wagon) is due to be added next year.
The motor’s output is 87kW (118PS) and the battery pack has a capacity of 42kWh. Top speed is only 150km/h, 0-100km/h takes 9.0 seconds and maximum WLTP range is 320km. There are three driving modes: Normal, Range (activates the one-pedal system) and Sherpa. In the last of these, top speed is limited to 80km/h and the A/C is switched off, along with seat heating.
An 85kW charger comes with the car. FCA says this means it takes only five minutes to build up a sufficient energy reserve to travel 50 kilometres, “more than is needed for average daily use”. The fast charger can also charge the battery to 80% in 35 minutes.
Olivier Francois, the head of the Fiat brand, told journalists at the launch of the New 500 Cabriolet that while this model was mainly for Europe, it would also be available in Brazil from 2021 and potentially, in the US too should there be demand. He did not state where production for those markets would be.
FCA claims it has no immediate plans to put combustion engines into the new car. Instead, the second generation model will remain in production at the Tychy plant in Poland as a cheaper alternative for as long as there is demand, the company says. There may even be a facelift to bring the styling somewhat into line with that of the New 500. The second generation car could remain in production until 2023, possibly longer. In 2019, Fiat sold 176,414 units of the Cinquencento across Europe, a year-on-year decline of 7.3 per cent and a remarkable result for a vehicle that dates to 2007.
Given how long FCA life cycles typically are and the unknown factor of what will happen after the Groupe PSA merger, it’s too early to say how long the New 500 will remain in production.
If the co-joined entity decides to keep rather than phase out the Fiat brand, a CMP architecture successor for the older 500 could in theory be brought into production by perhaps as soon as 2023 or 2024. However, it should be remembered that the smallest cars on this Dongfeng-PSA platform are currently in the B segment.
Fiat’s best seller is the Panda, deliveries rising by 9.1 per cent in 2019 to 184,288 units. Now eight years old, it has recently gained a mild hybrid variant. That might give us a big clue as to what FCA intends to do with this model: possibly apply the same strategy as what it’s now doing with the 500. Namely, keep the old car in production with a reduced range of petrol engines after it launches a potentially electric-only successor in 2021. Such a car would use SUSW Evo, the EV-enabled platform that will soon be introduced by the New 500.
Concept Centoventi, a design study named after Fiat’s 120th anniversary, was revealed at the 2019 Geneva motor show. It clearly heralded the shape of the next Panda. The concept was fully electric. How long the Panda EV would remain being built post-merger is up in the air. PSA seems to have a good grip on costs so it might wish to move relatively quickly to merge platforms and powertrains. Going against that argument, FCA has invested in the SUSW Evo electric platform, new vehicles and the retooling of plants so an electric Panda launched in 2021 should in theory remain being built until the late 2020s.
The Mobi, another A segment model, is big in Brazil, where more than 16,000 have been sold so far this year. FCA’s local operations developed this little car using the Uno as the base. Production commenced at Betim in May 2016. A facelift is due next year and given how long the company takes to launch replacement vehicles, there should be a second nip and tuck in 2023/2024 before the potential arrival of a successor in 2026.
Crossovers & SUVs
What is to become of the 500X? What indeed. This small SUV is only five years old but in most markets, it has been caught in the crossfire of multiple attacks by rival models on one another. The Fiat has nowhere near the region-wide sales power of the Renault Captur (2019 sales: 224,127) or Peugeot 2008 (167,417), although it still does OK in Italy: of the 90,762 registered in Europe in 2019, 42,554 were bought by Italians.
The 500X had a facelift in 2018 and that was after three and a half years of production, so this model might be that rare FCA vehicle – one with an industry standard seven-year life cycle. The 500X Sport was added in September last year for European countries. This features unique touches such as lowered suspension, and is powered by a 150hp 1.3-litre FireFly petrol engine. A mild hybrid powertrain will almost certainly become available later in 2020 and that should be good enough to keep the 500X competitive until a replacement comes. That should happen in 2022. This second generation could even go EV-only, with the current model staying in production (at Melfi) until mid-decade, albeit with another facelift.
A few segment sizes up, and a continent away, the Brazilian market is to gain another Fiat SUV, this being based on the Toro, a pick-up (see below). The Fastback, a futuristic concept which might have revealed some of the styling of the SUV, premiered at the Sao Paulo motor show in November 2018. The production model is likely to be launched in 2021 after an expected debut at this year’s Sao Paulo show. The name is not yet known, but Toro Fastback has been suggested.
The successor for the Strada should be based upon the Fiat 500X/Jeep Renegade’s architecture. An image was released in February so the sales launch is expected soon. Production will again be at the Betim plant in Minas Gerais. Such is the extent to which demand for Fiat’s aged car models has fallen that this small pick-up is the brand’s best seller in Brazil (only just ahead of the larger Toro, another pick-up).
FCA’s Goiana plant builds the Toro, this model having been introduced in 2016. Unusually for such a vehicle, there is no separate chassis, the 4.9m long Toro being a moncoque in the style of the Honda Ridgeline. As well as being lighter than rival models, another innovation is a tailgate that is split down the middle, the idea being that it is opened in the same way as doors on the rear of a van.
The Ram 1000 is more or less the same vehicle as the Fiat Toro. It was launched in certain South American countries in September 2019 just after the arrival of a facelifted Toro was released in Brazil. There should be a second facelift in 2022 and a new Toro in 2025.
If we classify Lancia as premium, this is still the Italian market’s number one such brand. For the year to the end of February, the Ypsilon, which has been in production since 2011 and had a mid-life facelift more than four years ago, turned in sales of 12,200, keeping the brand’s only model ahead of Audi’s entire line-up (10,850).
There was news for the little car this very week, in the form of the Ypsilon Mild Hybrid. As with the recently announced Fiat Panda Hybrid and 500 Hybrid, the engine is a special version of FCA’s FireFly 1.0-litre three-cylinder combined with a 12-volt BSG (Belt-integrated Starter Generator). Outputs are 51kW/70HP and 92Nm. The sole transmission is a six-speed manual which FCA calls C514. The only external difference is a ‘Hybrid’ badge on the tailgate.
The BSG system is mounted directly to the engine and turned by the same belt which drives the auxiliaries. Energy harvested during braking and deceleration is stored in an 11Ah lithium battery. This is used to restart the engine in Stop&Start mode and to assist during acceleration. The engine will switch off at speeds below 30 km/h if the driver shifts into neutral having been prompted by an indicator light within the instrument panel. In coasting mode, the car runs on the lithium battery.
FCA still won’t say publicly what it plans to do with this historic marque and its only model. It’s hard to see Lancia surviving the FCA-PSA merger though.
Reports for many other manufacturers’ future models are grouped in the OEM product strategy summaries section of just-auto.com.
Future product program intelligence
More detail on past, current and forthcoming models can be found in PLDB, the future vehicles database. That includes the Fiat vehicles which were not discussed in the above report. Details of Abarth models can also be found in PLDB.
This was the first feature in a series examining the current and future models of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ passenger vehicle brands. The next one will look at Alfa Romeo and Maserati.