Posts tagged ‘South America’


How will things play out at Fiat?

02.04.2016


Above: The current Fiat 500. A year shy of its 10th anniversary, is it still cool in 2016?

The Detroit News reports that Fiat has been having trouble Stateside, with dealers now permitted to sell the cars alongside Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and Ram instead of at stand-alone showrooms.
   It’s been worrying seeing Fiat’s plans unfold since it decided to take control of Chrysler, a firm that was once the darling of the US car industry, with its industry-leading R&D times, to one that was starved of investment in the 2000s.
   Those initial plans, sold as a long-term strategy, turned out to be a short-term Band-Aid. With hindsight, maybe it wasn’t too much of a surprise, since Fiat was still grappling with understanding just what it was taking on.
   Fiat needed to do something given that things at home weren’t looking too good, with a model range that wasn’t very cohesive, and with its entries into the Chinese market having faltered a few times. To the casual observer, Fiat saved Chrysler, but there’s some truth in saying that having the company that controls the Jeep brand was a lifeline to Fiat itself.
   What we’ve seen since those days was the failure of the strategy of twinning Chrysler and Lancia. While this was a marriage of convenience, I could see this having some long-term gains with Lancia focusing on smaller cars and Chrysler on larger ones, but the result in 2016 is that Lancia has been reduced to an Italy-only marque, the equivalent of what Autobianchi was a few decades ago. Once the Ypsilon is deleted, then Lancia is consigned to the history books.
   The winner has been Alfa Romeo. It has only just returned to the junior executive segment with the new Giulia, after an absence of several years, and its 4C is a cracking sports car. Things are looking up, and rumours that Alfa and Dodge would be paired up in the same way Lancia and Chrysler were mercifully haven’t come true. The Giulia platform could be used for future models. Jeep has benefited from Fiat platforms, and Ram has gained some Fiat vans.
   But the parent brand, Fiat, has looked very uncertain for a while.
   For a start, there’s little uniformity globally. Fiat has the opportunity to offer the Viaggio and Ottimo in more places than China, slotting above the Ægea, for example. While having unique models for South America makes some sense, because of Fiat’s strength there, there’s an opportunity to globalize, with the Toro pick-up truck looking very appealing.
   Without having more of its self-developed products, the Fiat range in Europe doesn’t inspire too much confidence. While most manufacturers have one or two joint-venture models, Fiat’s range is almost exclusively made up of vehicles that have shared tech. The famous 500 and Panda are on a Fiat platform which has Chrysler input (before the takeover), and is shared with Ford for its B420 Ka. The Punto, 500X and 500L are on another platform shared with GM. The Doblò is also offered to GM. The Qubo is the product of a joint venture with Peugeot. The Freemont is a rebadged Dodge Journey from México, which Fiat gained after the takeover. The 124 Spider is based on the Mazda MX-5, and built in Japan by that firm. The Fullback pick-up is a Mitsubishi Triton twin and made in Thailand by that Japanese firm.
   Fiat, in other words, is holding down more relationships than Casanova.
   As a casual observer, there’s an opportunity for a massive streamlining of platforms, and offer more in-house models. That may well be happening, and let’s hope its current strategy is more long-term than its last.
   Secondly, as mentioned earlier, Fiat hasn’t had a great reputation of being able to carry out long-term sales’ strategies in many of its markets. Take New Zealand, for example, where Fiat was offering its (Grande) Punto and Bravo models, before it decided to pull everything and offer only the 500.
   The Punto has returned after a hiatus, this time as a budget model, along with the Tipo 139 Panda, but those who bought Puntos in the 2000s might think twice about returning to a company that abandoned them and offered no direct replacement for their car when it came to trading up.
   That lack of continuity could have some buyers worried, and Fiat needs to regain their trust in a big way.
   Being the Five Hundred Car Company, which Fiat certainly was in the US, cannot help, if buyers expect Fiat to offer more. We’ve seen it fail here, and Fiat’s had to back-track. Even in Hong Kong, where Fiat had also been reduced to flogging only the 500, it has had to add the Freemont.
   Fiat will argue that as it had been absent from North America for so long, it could re-enter the market-place with a single, fashionable model: after all, Mini and Smart have done.
   The trouble is that Fiat isn’t known as a niche brand: there was enough in the US media to indicate that this was an Italian giant, and the perception of such a large company didn’t gel with it offering a niche range anywhere. It lacked the cachet of a brand that was created to be fashionable and funky from the outset. You just can’t do it when that’s the name of the owner (think: can you sell “cool” cars with GM as the brand—that had been tried in New Zealand and failed dismally; or, going back a generation, Leyland? Volkswagen surely is the sole exception with its Beetle), and FCA, which the parent company is called, isn’t a consumer-facing brand. It’s just a company name with no brand equity.
   In the same vein, average punters might not know of BMW’s connection with Mini, or Daimler AG’s connection with Smart. They stand alone with plenty of brand equity, helped by identifiable products, and, in Mini’s case, even helped by its image outside North America.
   I also question whether the 500X and 500L are cute cars in the same vein as the original 500. Getting Ben Stiller’s Derek Zoolander character to advertise the 500X seemed good in theory—till it dawned on the public that the new Zoolander film was a bit naff, cashing in on last-decade nostalgia. I’m not a fan of retro design, either, and I would have hoped that Fiat would have renewed its 500 by now, since we’re on to newer versions of the Beetle, Mini, and Smart. It’s no surprise that Fiat sales are down 14·6 per cent so far this year.
   If Toyota could not sustain Scion with all its muscle, then Fiat retail really should be integrated into dealerships selling Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram Stateside. And I’d argue that Scion couldn’t remain because the brand had lost its coolness among the college kids who bought the XB in the first place. Buyers in this consumerist game, and at the fashion end it is more a game than in any other, are notoriously fickle.
   I don’t know how it’s going to play out. Fiat’s a brand I’ve grown up with, and I’ve been visiting their dealerships since I was two years old. Back in the 1970s the showroom in Homantin, Kowloon had everything from 127s to 130s. Fiat was doing a brisk trade on 124s. I came close to buying various Fiat Group cars over the years, including a Tipo and a Lancia Delta, and more recently I had considered Alfa Romeo Mitos and Giuliettas. I briefly toyed with importing a Tipo 844 Lancia Delta from the UK badged as a Chrysler, but decided having a $75 1:43-scale one was enough.
   To see Lancia decimated and now on life support as Fiat concentrated on making Chrysler and Dodge work, to see the home brand filled with other people’s products in the interim, and to receive news that US buyers weren’t flocking to its showrooms in the same numbers any more, all make me concerned. Go to Italy and the taxi ranks no longer are dominated by Fiat Group cars: the cabbies have gone French and German. It’s all very well Maserati and Ferrari doing well but the former’s volumes won’t have a huge impact, while the latter has been separated and now has a different parent. The only continent where I think Fiat is making a decent bash of things is South America. I don’t want to paint a doom-and-gloom picture, not least because I have fondness for all the brands that now fall under the Fiat umbrella. But the weaknesses, at least to an outsider looking in, outnumber the strengths. My gut says Fiat will work through it all, but will it do it in a fast enough fashion, or is there more pain to come?

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Posted in branding, business, cars, China, globalization, marketing, USA | 1 Comment »


Another milestone: Autocade reaches 2,000 models

30.12.2012

The last few times Autocade reached a milestone, I blogged about it, and since this one is a bit of a Duesy, it deserves to be recorded.
   The car cyclopædia has reached 2,000 models, with the Opel Kadett D getting us there.
   It also passed 2½ million page views during December—I noticed it was about to cross 2 million back in March 2012. Not huge numbers if you break it down per day, but for something that was meant to be a hobby site, it’s not too bad. I also notice that it gets cited in Wikipedia from time to time.
   The history has been noted here before, especially when I first started it in 2008. It was meant to be an editable wiki, but, sadly, in 2011, the bots became too uncontrollable, and I made the decision to lock down the registration process. A small handful of people—I count four, including myself—have contributed to the site with content and programming, among them Keith Adams of AROnline and Peter Jobes. A fourth contributor, whose name I have forgotten, provided some early info on Indian cars.
   It’s still a bit light on American cars, mostly due to the issues of converting from cubic inches. Some of my references aren’t that accurate on this for the same reason, and I want to make sure that everything’s correct before it’s published. Most US sites just record cubic capacity in litres when metric measures are given, and we need to be more accurate. But we will get there.
   Of course, over the years, we have recorded some oddball cars. So, as I did for its fourth birthday, here is a selection. My thanks to Keith and Pete, and to all our readers.
   And since I blog less these days—Facebook (including the fan page), Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and the rest seem to take more of my attention—I imagine this is my last entry for 2012. Have a wonderful 2013, everyone!

Rambler by Renault: after Renault bought IKA’s operations in Argentina in the mid-1970s, it inherited a design based on the Rambler American.

Image:Renault_Torino.jpgRenault Torino. 1975–81 (prod. 100,000 approx. all versions). 4-door sedan, 2-door coupé. F/R, 2962, 3770 cm³ (6 cyl. OHC). Continuation of Rambler American (1964–9)-based IKA Torino, rebadged Renault after it took over IKA in 1975. Facelift in 1978. Very subtle changes thereafter, with Renault logo eventually displacing the Torino prancing horse. Two versions at the end of its run, the Grand Routier sedan and ZX coupé. A planned, more modern successor never saw the light of day.

Ford by Chrysler: Simca took over Ford’s operations in France in the 1950s, and the model it inherited, the Vedette, stayed in production long enough in Brazil for Chrysler to put its own badges on it when it bought Simca out.

Image:Chrysler_Esplanada.jpgChrysler Esplanada. 1967–9 (prod. unknown). 4-door sedan. F/R, 2505 cm³ (V8 OHV). As with Regente, rebadged when Chrysler took over Simca Brasil. Power reduced to 130 PS; comments for Regente apply here, with the principal outward difference being Esplanada’s higher trim level. Slightly more powerful engine.

Chrysler by Volkswagen: this one is perhaps better known. Chrysler found itself in such a mess by the end of the 1970s that it sold its Brazilian operations to Volkswagen, which eventually rebadged the local edition of the Hillman Avenger.

Image:1991_Volkswagen_1500.jpgVolkswagen 1500/Volkswagen 1500M. 1982–91 (prod. 262,668 all versions). 4-door sedan, 5-door wagon. F/R, 1498, 1798 cm³ (4 cyl. OHV). Facelifted version of Dodge 1500, itself an Argentine version of the Hillman Avenger. Had a good history as a Dodge in the 1970s, and sold on that goodwill as well as robustness; but largely seen as an economy model for VW in the 1980s. Five-speed gearbox from 1988, with air conditioning on more models.

Volkswagen by Ford: as part of the Autolatina JV in Brazil, Volkswagen and Ford rebadged each other’s models. A similar experiment was happening in Australia between Ford and Nissan, and Toyota and Holden, around this time.

Image:Ford_Versailles.jpgFord Versailles (B2). 1991–6 (prod. unknown). 2- and 4-door sedan, 3- and 5-door wagon. F/F, 1781, 1984 cm³ (4 cyl. OHC). Volkswagen Santana (B2) with redone front and rear ends, and addition of two-door sedan and three-door wagon. Part of the Autolatina tie-up in South America between Ford and VW, replacing Corcel-based Del Rey. No different to Volkswagens in that market, with same engines. Wagons called Royale, but five-door only added in 1995. Fairly refined by early 1980s’ standards but ageing by time of launch, though better than Del Rey.

While we’re looking at South America, the Aero-Willys probably deserves a mention. Autocade doesn’t have the Ford-badged versions there yet, but it will in due course. Thanks also to acquisitions, Ford wound up with Willys in Brazil, and built a Brooks Stevens-penned design till it was replaced by its own Maverick in the 1970s. Here is that car, with an old platform, but more modern (compared to the 1950s’ version) styling.

Image:1963_Aero_Willys.jpgAero Willys 2600 (213). 1963–8 (prod. unknown). 4-door sedan. F/R, 2638 cm³ (6 cyl. OHV). Rebodied Aero, considered one of the first all-Brazilian cars, originally shown at the Paris Salon the year before. US platform as before, and modern styling by Brooks Stevens, but this shape was unique to Brazil. Engine now with 110 hp. Rear end altered in 1965, and spun off upmarket Itamaraty model in 1966.

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Posted in cars, interests, internet, media, publishing | 1 Comment »