Over the next 24 months, Fiat brands will introduce four-wheel-drive versions of 10 vehicles in a bid to break out of Fiat Auto’s market share doldrums.

If consumers respond to the permanent 4×4 offerings from Fiat and Alfa Romeo, the Italian automaker is considering adding up to five more models with the option by 2008, including one for Lancia.

“We have found a way to offer 4×4 at a very competitive price for the consumer,” said a high-ranking Fiat Auto executive on condition of anonymity.

“We hope our new 4×4 models could offer Fiat a competitive advantage against our main competitors, which right now offer only front-wheel drive cars,” the executive said.

The plan includes two sport utilities and powertrain options on eight cars and minivans, so the planned 4×4 volume may be 100,000 or more units annually by 2006. The plan includes three Fiat and seven Alfa models, with potential for another three Fiats, a Lancia and another Alfa vehicle.

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For the last decade, Fiat brands offered only a single model with 4×4, the previous-generation Fiat Panda that was discontinued in July 2003.

The 4×4 could give Fiat a sales feature to drive incremental sales. Few of its close rivals in mass-market segments have 4×4.

Currently, no South Korean carmakers offer a 4×4 car. Nor do European volume makers Ford, Opel/Vauxhall, Peugeot, Citroen and MG-Rover. Renault offers 4×4 only on its Kangoo car-derived van.

VW Group offers various 4×4 cars for all its volume brands, Seat, Skoda and Volkswagen. Of the nine Japanese brands sold in Europe, only Suzuki and Subaru offer 4×4 cars.

The first 4×4 Fiat group vehicles go on sale in October.

Fiat Auto CEO Herbert Demel is a strong supporter of this new breed of four-wheel drive passenger car. Demel is a four-wheel-drive expert. He was Audi’s product development chief from 1990 to 1994 before becoming Audi CEO.

Under Demel, Audi extended 4×4 to Audi’s entire product line up, even including the TT roadster.