The best selling Fiat in the brands number one market has its origins in the 178 project from the 1990s

The best selling Fiat in the brand's number one market has its origins in the 178 project from the 1990s

Such has been its shrinkage at home, Italy is no longer the number one market for the Fiat brand. A 20% slide to 323,342 vehicles sold to Italian buyers in 2018 compares to a 13.2% gain in Brazil to 325,726. Is FCA concerned? Not at all. The company seems happy to observe a planned slide for Fiat worldwide as it instead pushes higher-priced Jeep models.

Volkswagen, which has crept up to its current number two status in the Italian market (162,775 in 2018: +12.3%) is only half the size of the Fiat brand and yet in 2017, the numbers were 402,430 versus 144,885. Imagine how much faster VW will close the gap this year as its WLTP problem vanishes. Especially if there are any delays associated with the yet to be announced next Fiat 500.

Something which the above numbers do not show is the incredible popularity of the Jeep Compass in Italy, which propelled that brand to an amazing 84,535 vehicle deliveries last year. That was not only a gain of 71% but enough to put it in eighth place, some 2,000 units ahead of Citroen and 3,000ish behind Toyota. In fact, for the month of December, Jeep took sixth place and had been as high as fifth earlier in the year.

Mass culling for Brazilian models?

Brazil is just as interesting. Fiat has the same issue there, its models being old, leading to a loss of market share. It's no longer a shock to see it down not even in second place but now in third, well behind Volkswagen (369,200 in 2018) and Chevrolet (434,364). This has been the pattern for a few years now.

You have to run your eye all the way down the best selling models list to position eight to find a Fiat. Even then, it's not a car, but the Strada, a little pick-up (see image) which, while technically new in 2009, goes much further back due to the age of its platform. Remember the Palio, Fiat's Project 178 World Car family of models? No? That's understandable: it was created a long time ago. Unbelievably, the company is still making models derived this series, which dates to 1996. In that context, the seven year old Panda, the brand and the country's number one model in Italy, plus another big seller, the born-in-2007 Fiat 500, are positively youthful.

Exiting Europe's B and C car segments

The trouble with letting models become ever more aged is that it ends up costing a lot of money to eventually replace them, factoring in the major and high-risk expenses associated with having to relaunch in a segment. Look at what happened with the Tipo/Egea, a car which has not been much of a success outside Turkey and Italy. And now the Punto has vanished and with it what had at one time been a big presence in the B segment of European and certain other countries.

The costs of developing and marketing first class challengers for the VW Polo and Golf were seen as being not worthwhile, so Fiat is little by little leaving some of Europe's main size classes. FCA has already let it be known that the Tipo will not be replaced once production ends in 2023. The future therefore looks a lot like Fiat in Europe will become the Panda and 500 brand, supported by the 500X, which is a big seller in Italy. By then, Volkswagen should be Italy's number one brand. In 2018, the Tipo plunged by 28% to 40,337 units while the second most popular C segment car was the Golf, which, even with WLTP, got within 5,000 cars of the Fiat (35,472). This year it will probably grab class leadership. In January, the totals were 2,227 versus 1,687 in VW's favour, the Tipo sustaining a 67% collapse.

Back in Brazil, there will be more new models. And yet looking at the current volumes, FCA will probably decide to eliminate quite a few older vehicle lines, the result being a further net loss of market share. Oddly, while the economy continues to climb out of the doldrums, Fiat will likely be sliding further. The Siena (2018 sales: 17,460), Uno (15,151), Doblo (5,297) and Weekend (3,165) all look like being either close to or ready for the chop.

What about China and India?

After what came to look like a half-hearted effort by FCA and its partners, GAC and Tata, large scale production of Fiat brand models in China and India never gathered much momentum. The cars were based on low-cost, outdated and cheap to manufacture platforms. In both countries, production slowed to a trickle and then petered out, the models in question being the Viaggio and Ottimo (GAC-Fiat, China) plus the Punto and Avventura (Tata-Fiat, India) although in theory, the latter two remain available but stocks are dwindling and the brand sold just 743 vehicles last year. In China, the number of locally-built cars sold was 268.

Will the US be next?

In theory, the 500 continues to be available as an import in the PRC but the brand itself seems likely to disappear from India. Given how low deliveries are in the USA (Jan: -39% to just 751 cars) and Canada (Jan: a mere 36 cars), it may not be long until FCA pulls Fiat out of those countries too. Brazil and Italy remain the 'big' two markets, plus there is also Turkey (a 41% crash to 70,058 sales in 2018) and then the UK, France, Germany and Spain plus a handful of countries where Fiat has a small presence, such as Japan, Mexico, Australia and South Africa. The future for this brand is not looking at all rosy.

Why is FCA allowing Fiat to keep crashing?

FCA appears to have an unsaid strategy of allowing Fiat to fade whilst at the same time heavily promoting Jeep. This is working, and it also makes much financial sense as the American brand's models are pitched in higher-priced and higher-margin segments.

Let's be clear though: Fiat is unlikely to disappear. The Panda and 500 will soon be replaced. And buyers in Brazil will still want a range of other models such as sedans, pick-ups and low-priced hatchbacks, vehicles which Jeep cannot offer them. Having said all that, to witness the Fiat brand in Italy plummeting to a market share level of 16.9% for 2018 still shocks. Even as Jeep surged, declines from Alfa, Lancia and Maserati plus Fiat meant that FCA Italy ended the year with an overall share of 26.3% compared to 28.4% in CY2017.

Things weren't too great for Fiat in January either, UNRAE data showing a 29.1% fall. As for volume, that's a full 10,000 vehicle sales lost in just one month compared to Gennaio 2018. And guess which way VW went? Up. By 11%. Still, Lancia had a 55% surge, making itself the only other FCA brand inside the top ten. Jeep fell by 16%, Alfa by 45% (the MiTo, now gone, helped in Jan 2018) and Maserati by 36%. Ferrari saw a 43% gain to 50 cars. Incidentally, not only was it a bigger brand in January than Infiniti (48 cars) but Italians continue to shrug at the fuss people make about Tesla elsewhere in the world (18 cars, down from a mere 30 in January 2018).

Time to take a look at a selection of Fiat models in some of the countries where the brand still does relatively well. For a full overview of all current and future vehicles, see the link to PLDB at the bottom of this feature.

A segment

The next generation Panda had at one time been expected to be manufactured in Poland but FCA is now said to have inked in the existing model's production plant (Pomigliano d'Arco in Naples) as the location of build for the successor. There should also be a 4x4 Jeep variant, based on the Panda Cross, in the same way that the 500X and Renegade are manufactured in the same plant, using the same architecture. In November, FCA Italy told unions of plans to build various future models at plants in the country. A mild hybrid Panda for Pomigliano was among the cars announced.

The replacement for today's 500 should be one basic car: the model currently sold in North America was re-engineered for US emissions and crash regulations and is thus quite different under the skin from Europe's model. The successor model for all countries should be built only in Europe. This is not only because Chrysler needs capacity at Toluca for other future models but the 500 is not a big seller in the Americas.

As well as petrol engines (but no diesel), there will be both mild hybrid and fully electric powertrains, according to a 1 June 2018 presentation made by FCA executives. The company also announced that a 500 Giardiniera (wagon) would be part of the next generation range. The little estate as well as the 500e (see below: Electric) will be manufactured at the Mirafiori plant in Turin.

B segment

The Grand Siena was launched in Brazil, its first market, in April 2012. However, the first generation of this small sedan series continued for a time, renamed as the Siena EL. The car can be thought of as the sedan version of the second generation Palio. The Chevrolet Cobalt is one rival, the Volkswagen Voyage is another.

According to a slide at FCA's May 2014 Investors' Briefing, the 'New Grand Siena' would be due for launch in 2016. Now it's 2019 and still no successor with that name has arrived. However, in 2017 came the first of two cars which have become Fiat's best sellers in the Brazilian B segment. The five-door hatchback is the Argo, with a sedan, the Cronos, following during the first quarter of 2018. While the Grand Siena is still on sale, the Punto and Linea were their cars' main predecessors.

C segment

The Bravo replacement (Project 317) had once been due for launch in mid-2013. As we know, that never happened. Instead, the Ægea - Aegea ('ee-ghia') project had its world premiere in sedan form at the Istanbul motor show in May 2015. This 4.5m long car, which is sold as the Tipo in some countries and Egea in others, went on sale from November 2015, with FCA stating at that time that the model would "gradually reach over 40 countries of the EMEA region".

The Tipo 5-door and Tipo Station wagon had their world premieres at the Geneva motor show in March 2016. The estate went on sale in relevant markets from September 2016. FCA supplies a version of the Tipo sedan to dealers in Mexico. This is the Dodge Neon.

The Tipo/Egea will be gradually discontinued in EU markets, FCA announced in June 2018. It will continue to be available in other countries which do not have the same, ever more strict exhaust emission laws.

MPVs

The fate of Fiat's two MPVs is puzzling. The 500L and extended length 500L Living (500L MPW in some markets) have not been strong sellers outside Italy and in the US it's almost amazing that the 500L continues to be available, so low is demand there. Both models are made at a plant in Serbia which had a major infusion of cash ahead of these vehicles going into production there. The first of the two dates to 2012 so in theory, their replacements would be due any time now. That won't be the case though, especially as outside China, small MPVs simply aren't popular.

The Kragujevac plant is a 67/33% JV between FCA Italy and the Serbian federal government so any attempts to close this factory will be met with fierce resistance. The big question is what vehicle or vehicles FCA could build there in the future. Given the age of the 500L's platform, the plant would need the major expense of a retooling as the SUSW architecture which Kragujevac was so expensively redeveloped to accommodate is hardly state of the art these days. One possibility would be to make the hot-selling Jeep Compass there for European countries.

SUV

The 500X remains Fiat's only SUV in Europe and North America. Launched in 2015, it was facelifted last August. The range at that point was split into two appearance packages: the standard 500X Urban, and the 500X Cross and 500X City Cross. The little five-door, which is really more of a crossover than an SUV, should in theory sell well in the USA but it doesn't. Which is quite a contrast to how popular its twin, the Jeep Renegade is. Still, the 500X does very well in Italy.

FCA US isn't giving up on the 500X, at least not for the moment. North America's 2019 model year 500X has the facelift and the engine line-up also changed. The 1.3-litre MultiAir III replaced both the 1.4-litre MultiAir turbo and 2.4-litre Tigershark. The new engine develops 177hp and 210 lb-ft (284Nm) of torque. A nine-speed automatic and all-wheel drive are also standard.

Whether or not a replacement appears alongside the next Renegade in 2021/2022 remains open to speculation. In theory, Fiat might leave this segment and hope that the Jeep will be just as popular with those in Europe who buy the 500X. It will be interesting to see if the current 500X gets the same PHEV powertrain that will become available in the Renegade during 2020. Should it not, this could be a sign that FCA is instead building up the Jeep and ceasing further investment in the 500X as a model line.

Pick-ups

The Strada, as noted above, is, depending on how you classify it, either a nine- (326 series range) or twenty-one year old (178 series) Brazilian-built small pick-up. First seen in 1998, it was also sold in some left-hand drive European markets for a time and, until the end of the 2014 model year, available in Mexico too. There, it was replaced by a Ram-badged vehicle, the 700. This is the same model but with different branding.

There have been quite a few facelifts plus all manner of additional variants. Soon though, the successor should finally appear, the replacement being based upon the Fiat 500X/Jeep Renegade's architecture.

A couple of sizes up is the Toro, another pick-up which is mainly for the Americas (although not North America). Based on a stretched version of the Renegade's architecture, this front-wheel drive-based model competes in Brazil, its best market, with the Chevrolet S10, Toyota Hilux, Ford Ranger, Mitsubishi L200, VW Amarok and Nissan Frontier (in order of market share). Each of these is 5m/16.4ft long and heavier.

The Toro went on sale in Brazil in March 2016 and it should remain in production for a decade with a facelift in 2021. There will be an SUV derivative to come too. The Fiat Fastback, a futuristic concept which might have revealed some of the styling of the SUV, was revealed at the Sao Paulo motor show a few months ago.

Roadster

Mazda builds a modified MX-5 in Japan for the Fiat and Abarth brands. Released in 2016, this saw the revival of the 124 Spider badge. Unlike the MX-5, the Fiat and Abarth 124 Spiders are powered by an FCA engine. This is the Group's 140hp 1.4 MultiAir, which is a 1,368cc turbocharged four-cylinder unit. In North America, the Abarth 124 spider is marketed as the Fiat 124 Spider Elaborazione Abarth.

As for whether or not FCA will be provided with replacements for the Fiat 124 Spider and Abarth 124 Spider, Mazda Motor's CEO Akira Murumoto stated in a December 2018 interview that it was too early to say. He added that the Roadster/MX-5 would always be the company's own design and not a joint venture. The current models are likely to remain in production until 2023 after a facelift in 2020.

Electric

The second generation electric 500 is due for sales release in 2020. Unlike other 500s, the 500e will be made in Italy, not Poland.

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 which is part of QUBE. That includes multiple Fiat models which do not appear in the above report, such as the Uno, Mobi, Fullback and Toro SUV.

This was the first feature in a series covering current and future passenger vehicles made by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Others to come will focus on Abarth, Lancia, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Maserati, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and finally, Ram.

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