Currently reading: How Fiat CEO survived the brand's most turbulent years
Boss Olivier Francois speaks to us on remaining loyal to the firm's core line-up and succeeding on a limited budget

“When I was given Fiat [to run], I was very happy,” said Olivier François, Fiat’s global boss. “In the old world, it was where all the investments used to go. Finally, I thought, I can express my ideas for the Fiat brand. But actually, no, I couldn’t. The investment was needed on other brands.”

That briefly sums up the history of Fiat over the past decade, a decade in which François has stayed at the helm despite all the turbulence, which includes the rise and sad demise of Sergio Marchionne and, more recently, the huge merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and the PSA Group to form Stellantis.

While watchful Stellantis chief Carlos Tavares has shuffled around almost all other brand bosses, François stays in charge, most likely demonstrating how he has impressed by achieving so much with so little investment.

François said: “In 2011, Fiat had a relatively fresh line-up but that wasn’t the case with Jeep, so the money was directed to brands which were more in need or brands that had a more immediate chance of creating big value.

“For almost 10 years, I have done what I could quite successfully. We did interesting products but not what we had in mind: one launch per year, per region, in relevant segments. This is the vision now. It is what we need to do and we will do. Back then, I didn’t have this possibility. We launched what we could when we could but not always in relevant segments.

“For example, the 124 Spider is one of my favourites but, let’s face it, it’s not a relevant segment. But it was what I could do because and we developed it with Mazda and it had a very good run. “Then there is the Fiat 500X, which is maybe one of the most interesting. It was a relevant segment and it is selling very well. We just launched the mild-hybrid version – proof that a product line is worth investing in.”

François continued: “Ultimately, we were not able to feed our product portfolio. The big exception, the big investment, was the Fiat 500e. It was a lot of focus, passion and time and it is very close to my heart. It’s very important as an icon which is also electric. It’s a big statement.

“So we did a few things, made well. I should not sell too short what we did. What we have been good at doing is keeping older products fresh and relevant, such as the Fiat Fiat Panda. It was launched in 2012, but look at what we have today. We updated the look but, more importantly, it has evolved in connectivity, safety and engines. It is an incredible success.”

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In 2021, Fiat sold 1.3 million vehicles, making it the biggest-selling brand – if not the most profitable – in the entire Stellantis group. Its strongholds are Europe and South America, in which it holds 4.7% and 14% of market share, respectively.

In Brazil, it has an impressive 22% share of the market. François said: “In Europe, Fiat is the number-three car maker in retail. Because we sell small cars, we are not a big fleet player.”

Its plan to launch a vehicle a year but keep its overall car line-up at five models, this is sufficient, François believes. He said: “That’s more than I need. What leads car makers to produce plain, vanilla cars – and dilute their brands – is having too many models. When you express your brand by a limited number of models, you want each of these models to be extremely powerful in terms of how they express your brand in different ways.”

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streaky 24 March 2022

I am amazed that Fiat is the biggest selling brand in the Stellantis Group, when we only see the 500 in the UK.  I have owned an original Panda and a 100HP and really liked them both, especially the stripped-out functionality of the original.  I await the new Panda with excitement.

stokiesuzuki78 26 March 2022

To be fair to Fiat the 500 is like Mini, a range of different vehicles. Then there's the Panda and Tipo, but all need updating and the Punto replacing. I can't imagine Ford killing off the Fiesta because the Puma's quite popular! Otherwise they will end up with Italian Rover, endlessly producing the same cars for far too long with stop gap updates.

 

Mark Tobin 24 March 2022

Stellantis really need to concentrate on the Fiat brand now. For far too long its been starved of investment, and has been on the wrong end of truly awful business decisions - not replacing the best selling Punto for one!  I'm a huge Fiat fan, c'mon Stellantis, give me something I want to buy - and not just a 500!!

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