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Fiat Auto expects three new models it launched this week to make up 35% of its unit sales next year, one of the company’s top executives said at the Geneva motor show, according to Reuters.

Reuters said that Gianni Coda, who is in charge of the Fiat and Lancia brands, forecast Fiat should sell 400,000 of the new cars in 2004, up from about 125,000 he expects to hit the road later this year.

“We’re talking big numbers, 35% of total sales. These models are an important renovation of our product line,” Coda told Reuters. “The new cars show we aren’t dead. We’re here and we’re coming back with fun and excitement,” he added.

According to Reuters, Fiat shares reached an 18-year low on Tuesday after rating agency Fitch downgraded its debt to “junk” status and the company said it was aiming for its car arm to break even at the operating level in 2004, later than previously forecast.
Unit sales of its Lancia, Alfa Romeo and Fiat marques fell about 11% last year, pushing Fiat Auto’s revenue 9.4% lower to 22.15 billion euros.

Reuters noted that, as part of a wide-sweeping restructuring, Fiat is investing 2.5 billion euros a year until 2005 to launch 20 new models and reinvigorate its image.

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Reuters said that, on Tuesday, Coda unveiled the first three debutants, Fiat’s newest releases since the mid-sized Stilo was launched in September 2001 and was hailed as Fiat’s future. Stilo sales have since fallen far short of forecasts.

According to the news agency, the compact Fiat Gingo will replace the decades-old Panda and the Seicento, due to go out of production this year, while the Fiat Idea is the Turin-based group’s first offering on the mini-MPV market.

Under the Lancia marque, Fiat unveiled the new small city car Ypsilon, Reuters said, noting that all three models will be launched across Europe later this year.

Coda told Reuters he expected to sell 40,000 Ypsilons and 70,000 Gingos — nicknamed “The Little Devil” — once the cars start driving out of showrooms in September. The Idea, due to be released in October, should sell 15,000 units in 2003.

Next year, Coda saw Idea sales rising to between 100,000 and 120,000 units, with Gingo sales of 180,000 to 200,000 cars and 80,000 to 100,000 Ypsilons, Reuters said.

“These cars will definitely have better margins than the ones we’re selling at the moment,” Coda told Reuters, adding that Fiat was still in the process of pricing the models.

Reuters said Fiat Auto is aiming to grab 30% of its key Italian market this year with a Western European market share forecast of between 8.2 and 8.8 percent, compared to 8.2 percent in 2002.

Coda said the new models could help boost Fiat’s already strong presence in Central and Eastern Europe, Reuters added.