During the recent launch of the 2009 Palio Weekend range last week, Cledorvino Belini, CEO of Fiat Automobiles for Latin America, confirmed ambitious plans for the Italian brand in the region that includes Mexico, Central and South America, plus the Caribbean and South Africa.

He said the goal is 15% market share by 2012. Currently, it’s 25% in Brazil and 2-5% in most other markets apart from 11% in Argentina.

Belini also told just-auto about a shorter term objective: “By 2010, we will have refurbished our plants in Brazil and Argentina to produce 1m units a year combined.

“We are on three shifts in Betim [Brazil], we have started to build the Siena in Cordoba and we have already decided on a second model for this Argentine unit, which had not built cars since 2002.”

He would not say which car would be built in Argentina but just-auto has learned it will be the Palio hatchback.

The strategy is to meet both local market needs and to export the car to benefit from the weakness of the Argentine peso against the dollar.

Asked to comment about the fact that this year, for the first time, Fiat Brazil will sell more cars and light commercials here than its parent will move in its Italian home market, Belini smiled and said: “The Italian market has shrunk due to inflation-taming measures.”

He believes sales in Brazil, including trucks and buses, will no less than 4.5m units in 2012 and acknowledged the need of having alternatives for Betim, planned to make about 800,000 vehicles this year, thus becoming the world’s largest vehicle production facility on one single site.

“The best production solutions arise from saturated plants. But, in fact, it is not that easy to handle 6,000 supplier trucks every day and 240,000 loaves of bread a week for the cafeterias.”

Nevertheless, he denied thinking about producing vehicles in Mexico as well.

However, just-auto has learned there is talk within Fiat Auto about using part of the Mexican facilities of the parent Fiat Group’s agricultural machinery division, Case-New Holland.

Fiat recently invited Latin American journalists to Porto de Galinhas, the world-famous beach resort in north-east Brazil, to see an addition to the automaker’s range of compact station wagons [aka estate cars].

Fiat surprised us by introducing the new Palio Adventure Locker version with even taller suspension setings (19cm ground clearance ), wider tracks and larger wheels, widened wings (guards), a fake, grille-mounted ‘bush guard’, and additional cladding on the body sides and tailgate. Inside, it has a compass plus lateral and vertical tilt meters like those on some full-blown four wheel drive off-roaders and SUVs.

Fiat reckons this version will take 50% of sales and claims to be the first to offer a two wheel drive vehicle with manually-selected, electro-mechanically actuated differential lock to improve off-road performance in low, and even medium difficulty conditions.

The technology, used only in four wheel drive vehicles until now, was a joint development in Brazil by Fiat Powertrain Technologies (FPT) and Eaton’s (US) Torque Control Products Division.

The system is low-cost and dependable but a passive-actuation, and equally effective, solution would be an ABS-based automatic brake differential (ABD) system, as already used in several 4×4 and 4×2 vehicles.

Fernando Calmon