Fiat do Brasil this week starts sales of the new generation Strada, the compact pick-up version of the 'emerging markets' Palio range.

The pick-up launch completes the Brazilian-made Palio range revision begun last November with the introduction of the third generation hatchback.

In March this year Fiat launched the updated Palio Weekend wagon and Siena sedan versions.

The new Strada replaces a generation launched in 2001 and, like its predecessor offers the option of regular or king-sized cabs. The model has the GM/Fiat Powertrain 1.8-litre eight-valve flexfuel system engine that runs on petrol, alcohol or a blend of the two.

It is the same engine used in the rival Chevrolet Montana pick-up.

To compete with growing sales of the Montana, based on the brazilian-made Corsa, Fiat has come up with a double strategy. In recent months the Montana has tied with the Strada to lead the brazilian compact pick-up segment, that also includes the VW Parati and Ford Courier models.

Because of this, Fiat will compete directly with the Montana with its new Strada but will continue to sell a version of the previous-generation model line.

The old model, named Strada Fire, has a 1.3-litre eight-valve petrol engine and is the cheapest compact pick-up on sale in Brazil (costing $US7,600). The new Strada and Montana cost about $US8,900.

"At the beginning of 2003 we had 40% of the compact pick-up market in Brazil, but now we have 30%. With the combination of sales of the new Strada and the Fire version we expect to hit 35% market share", said Fiat Auto Latin America president Cledorvino Belini.

The Strada is made only in Brazil, in the Betim plant, in Minas Gerais state. Exports of the new model to other Latin America countries will start at the end of the year.

Rogério Louro