As It Plots a Modest Path Forward, Fiat Thinks Small

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Image: © 2018 Chris Tonn

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Fiat, the ancient automotive brand found at the top of very few American shopping lists, finds itself in the midst of a transformation. On its European home turf, emissions rules have grown ever more strict; meanwhile, many buyers are gravitating towards the type of vehicles offered by corporate sibling Jeep, and Fiat Chrysler would prefer they purchase the seven-slot brand. That leaves Fiat with a mandate to think small.

As details emerge from the latest meeting of Fiat brass, it looks like the brand’s future holds efficiency but precious little flash.

The brand’s diminished stature was made apparent in last year’s five-year FCA product plan, which focused heavily on the cash-cow Jeep and Ram brands, but Fiat remains important to the corporate mothership for its Euro small-car sales and EV presence.

Speaking to Autocar, Fiat CEO Olivier François said the brand’s strategy is simple.

“For our future product plan, we need the right balance between the two dimensions: the Fiat 500 family and family transportation. There will be no big cars, no premium cars, no sporty cars because they have no legitimacy,” said François.

“We will be present in the C-segment [compact] but not much more. All models will sit within 3.5m and 4.5m. This is where Fiat will play. We need more EVs. And we need more 500 models that look legitimate enough to take higher pricing.”

Fiat recently punted production of the current-generation 500 to Poland to make room in Turin for an all-electric 500e successor expected out next year. The old 500 will remain, offering a low-cost entry point to the brand. In the U.S., expect to see FCA’s new turbo 1.3-liter take up residence beneath the returning model’s hood, hooked up to an eTorque mild hybrid system. The engine already finds a home in the 500X. Autocar has learned that the all-electric model might sport clamshell-style doors for better rear-seat ingress/egress.

The 500e remains FCA’s only EV in North America.

While Europeans can expect new 500 variants like the roomier Giardiniera estate, existing models like the 500L and Jeep Renegade-based 500X have a hazy future. Autocar reports that the 500X will bow out of the Euro market; Automotive News reports that we’ll lose the 500L, angering a vanishingly small number of buyers. Meanwhile, UK buyers no longer have access to the non-Abarth 124 Spider, and it remains to be seen how long the model kicks around. It’s up to Mazda, really.

Earlier this year, François told Autocar that he’d be open to a successor, assuming he can find a partner. No shared platform, no new Spider.

Image: FCA

“The 124 market is a niche one,” said said. “It is profitable business for us, but only because of the joint venture. It was an opportunity and we took it. It makes money and it adds a certain cool factor. But I accept that such a car may not be key to the future of the brand. It is not what I’d call a pure, absolute Fiat, but for now, it remains an interesting opportunity.”

The Spider might have legs in Europe, but not in the States. Sales of the MX-5-based roadster fell 19 percent in the first half of 2019, following an even steeper decline seen in 2018. Overall, the barely-there Fiat brand fell 38 percent through the end of June. And yet Fiat officials say an American pull-out is not in the cards.

[Image: © 2018 Chris Tonn/TTAC, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]