Fiat created Brazil’s first compact pickup truck in 1978, presenting it at the São Paulo Auto Show as 147 pickup (based on the Italian 127 hatchback). The development of the segment was quite slow initially and it took four years for a direct competitor to arrive, the VW Gol-derived Saveiro.

The Saveiro led for several years but slowly Fiat regained the initiative with models like an Uno truck, and more so from 1998 when the Palio-based Strada model was launched. In 1999, a king cab version provided the product to lead the segment, which was achieved in 2000.

Next October, VW will launch a new Saveiro (Gol generation five-derived), king cab version included. Fiat anticipated its arch-rival’s move and has just introduced the Strada crew cab.

Initially, the Strada crew cab will come in Adventure form only with the raised ride height and various ‘offroad’ body add-ons popular here for two wheel drivers that rarely depart asphalt. The automaker itself expects a severe cannibalisation effect on the Strada king cab as retail prices will be close.

One reason prompting Fiat to develop the new version was the illegal fitting of a small bench seat in the king cab version by aftermarket shops.

To create the crew cab model, the automaker reinforced the rear of the passenger cab and installed seating for two occupants, who get three-point seatbelts and headrests.

So as not to reduce cargo bed length and volume too much, the new Strada variant has limited legroom for those rear seat passengers yet access is easy as both front seats slide forward and a mechanical ‘memory’ restores their settings. Product engineers at Fiat HQ in Betim, state of Minas Gerais, also softened spring rates and damping forces to improve ride comfort.

Power is from the familiar 1.8-litre/114CV (on ethanol) flexible-fuel engine of Chevrolet (the now defunct GM-Fiat Powertrain JV) origin.

The Strada truck now offers standard, king and crew cabs and, even before the crew cab’s debut, achieved a record first half market share of 57% against the Chevrolet Montana, Saveiro and Ford Courier.

Next year a Peugeot 207 pick-up is expected, its name yet to be chosen.

Fernando Calmon