Fiat is to launch a hatchback version of its Viaggio saloon into the Chinese market later this year.
The new model will be built alongside the saloon version that Fiat assembles in China with its Chinese partner GAC. The Viaggio is the Fiat version of the Dodge Dart saloon that's sold in North America.
John Burton, the British-born general manager of the GAC-Fiat joint venture, confirmed the news to Autocar at the Shanghai motor show. The Viaggio hatchback is set to be revealed at the Guangzhou motor show at the end of the year, to go into production soon after and be delivered to customers early next year.
The model has been styled by Fiat in Italy with input from GAC into local Chinese tastes, revealed Burton.
Currently, saloons in the C-segment - with which the Viaggio will compete with - account for more than five million sales per year in the Chinese market. The volumes for hatchbacks are tiny at present, but as the Chinese market quickly matures hatchbacks are set to dramatically increase in popularity.
Fiat's current offerings in China include the Viaggio, 500, Bravo and Freemont. Burton believes Fiat needs to do more to market its history to the Chinese, and believes it can benefit from models like the 500 Gucci special edition.
"The Chinese love Italian history and style," he said, "and we need to let them know we're part of it too."
Burton does not believe the the 500 is too small for Chinese tastes, and reckons the model has huge potential in China. He also didn't rule out local production of the model should it be a success.
Burton also confirmed local production would begin of the new Jeep Cherokee next year. "There are plans in place," he said. "China is the world's second largest SUV market after North America, so it makes sense to be here with Jeep."
The annual capacity of the GAC-Fiat plant in Changsha is 140,000 units.