Although Fiat Mercosur has not yet confirmed details, the Italian automaker is apparently on track, as announced in Italy recently, to produce a medium-size one tonne pickup truck with standard and crew (double) cabs, and two- and four-wheel drive, from mid-2008 at its under-used Cordoba plant in Argentina.

This deal between Fiat and India's Tata will allow the former to compete in rich market segments from which it has been absent so far, and the Indian group to introduce its brand and products to Mercosur countries in South America, exempt from import tax.

Work to recalibrate suspensions and make a few minor styling changes to the 207 DI pickup are already under way - in Brazil at Fiat's development centre in Betim. Fiat already produces a range of cars in Brazil.

The accord outlined in Italy includes producing the Tata Safari SUV - which shares the pickup truck's chassis - in Cordoba. The Argentine government has been applying pressure for the project to proceed because the Cordoba plant hasn't built a vehicle since 2000, though it does still produce stamping blanks and make engines and transmissions.

The Brazilian Fiat unit would not confirm any development work on a Tata pickup truck model, but examples of the Safari SUV have been seen around Belo Horizonte with executives driving. The only disguise was tape over badging on the grille, wheel hubs and exterior spare wheel.

Introducing the Safari would very cost-effectively give Fiat another vehicle type that it neither makes nor imports itself for South America.

Argentine-built versions of both the pickup truck and the SUV will have some updates and changes, compared to the models already sold in India and Tata's other export markets, and there will be specific design changes to distinguish the Fiat-badged versions from those for and Tata.

Fernando Calmon