Fiat SpA’s chief executive Sergio Marchionne has announced a EUR1bn (US$1.3bn) investment for the firm’s Melfi plant. Fiat and Jeep SUVs will be made at the factory in southern Italy from 2014 but there is no mention of any replacement for the Fiat Punto which is currently built there.

Adding to suspicions that Fiat does not intend to directly replace one of its best sellers, Marchionne spoke of the need for Fiat SpA’s products to move “upscale”. Fewer than 95,000 units of the Punto have been sold in what has always been its largest market, Italy, during the first 11 months of this year. Next year will be the model’s eighth year of production. It seems a strong possibility that the firm now sees the 500L as the new core product for the Fiat brand in Europe’s B segment.

Until today’s announcement, another Italian plant, Mirafiori, was believed to be the front runner to build the two new SUVs that are being developed under the ‘B-SUV’ project codename.

As for model names, ‘Jeepster’ is rumoured, while ‘500X’ was confirmed by Fiat in July 2012, when it revealed a full sized model of the vehicle during the 500L media launch. The new vehicles will be rivals for the Nissan Juke, Ford EcoSport, Opel/Vauxhall Mokka and Chevrolet Trax.

Author: Glenn Brooks