This big, seven-seat, four wheel-drive beast is the Fiat Freemont, which we in the UK will not be getting the chance to buy. In reality, it is a modified version of the Dodge Journey, which gets its own Fiat-designed dashboard and a modified nose and tail.
Last week, while driving the 2012 Fiat Punto, I also had a quick go in the Freemont on the roads around Fiat Auto’s Balocco test track. It’s no Ford S-Max, that’s for certain. But it is a capacious seven seater and I can see why it would appeal to people living in snowy central Europe.
It was also interesting to hear the Freemont’s product manager admit that the car was appealing to active types with lots of ‘friends and relations’. The average European family is shrinking in size, so the Freemont is not absolutely destined to be a school bus.
Although it’s only just been launched, the Mexican-built Freemont is doing pretty well, with 25,000 orders already. Indeed, Fiat is upping its factory order for 2012 by 20 per cent. Fiat is claiming that 40 per cent of buyers are switching over from estate cars and 65 per cent of buyers are from other brands, which is always a metric that car makers make a lot of noise about. It also says the average owner’s satisfaction rating for the Freemont is 8.8 out of 10. Only the 500 (at 9.1) is higher.
The biggest surprise in the pre-drive presentation were the stats attached to the Freemont’s own Facebook page. Fiat is claiming a massive 2.5m hits and 120,000 brochure downloads. A Fiat boss told us that the page contained almost all praise for the car and only a ‘few minor criticisms’.
Unless Facebook pages for individual models are painstakingly controlled by the car companies themselves, there’s clearly a possibility that social media could provide unparalleled owner-to-owner contact and information transfer for new models. Faults and foibles could become common knowledge in minutes. Under-par, real-world, fuel economy figures could torpedo the best marketing campaigns.
All car makers either have, or are developing, social networking sites. But the ability of home bloggers to ‘like’, ‘comment’ on and ‘share’ the good and bad about your product - even post up wholly baseless opinions - means that companies could now have the biggest PR battle on their hands it’s possible to envisage.