The premium sector will be addressed by the reinvention of Alfa Romeo and, to a lesser extent, rising sales and new models from Maserati.
Fiat is already very well placed in the market for characterful small cars with the 500 line-up. The 500 hatchback and the bigger 500L MPV are both segment leaders in Europe, and Fiat’s main challenge will be to maintain and progress the success of the 500 family.
Fiat will attack the SUV sector with the new 500X and the upcoming Nissan Qashqai-sized SUV. These models will be made profitable because they will share components with and be built alongside a pair of Jeep sister cars.
Additionally, the sophisticated platform underpinning the new 500X and Jeep Renegade can be scaled for use on the bigger Fiat and Jeep models.
Farther down the line, Fiat and Jeep may launch a truly baby SUV into the European market. The model would be around the size of a supermini, according to global Jeep boss Mike Manley. The move could result in today’s Fiat Panda Cross being replaced by a pair of Fiat and Jeep SUV models.
With the small and medium SUV market covered by Fiat and Jeep, Marchionne’s plan then takes an unexpected turn into a new niche.
Although Europe’s Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus-sized C-segment accounts for a substantial 29% of the new market, profits are wafer thin, if they exist at all.Most analysts think the situation is caused by a combination of intense competition, high labour costs and increasingly generous standard specifications as the mainstream brands chase the sector-leading Golf.
Marchionne, according to sources, will counter these hurdles by launching a back-to-basics C-segment hatchback and estate, replacing the unsuccessful Fiat Bravo. These will be based on the same platform as the 500L MPV and will be built in Turkey, where labour rates are cheaper.
Insiders have told Autocar that the new models will not be as “basic” as Dacia’s successful models, but will be “very well priced”. Some rumours suggest that Marchionne will use the well-regarded Panda badge for the Bravo replacement, neatly rebuilding the Panda family as Fiat’s no-nonsense sub-brand.
Even under Marchionne’s rigorous approach, the Fiat brand will get a ‘halo’ model. The car that started life as Alfa Romeo’s version of the new Mazda MX-5 will now be sold as the Fiat 124 Spider, a reference to the classic Pininfarina-designed roadster that was sold between 1966 and 1985.
Meanwhile, the Jeep brand has been tasked with ‘going global’ over the next few years. The brand sold just over one million units for the first time last year, but 76% of the sales were in the United States.
Mike Manley, overall boss of the Jeep brand, says the company sells just 8% of its vehicles in the EU and a similar proportion (around 89,000 units last year) in the Chinese market.
Manley wants Jeep sales to rise significantly in these markets. To this end, Jeep will open two factories in China in the next two years, while a new manufacturing plant is also coming on stream in Brazil.
The Renegade, which Manley says is selling “ahead of expectations” in Europe, will also be exported to the United States, although it won’t be sold in China. It’s thought the annual global market for B-segment SUVs such as the Renegade will be as high as two million units by 2019.
The next new global Jeep product will be the Qashqai-sized SUV. It will be launched in 2016 as a replacement for the Patriot and Compass models and will form the core part of Jeep’s expansion.
Manley also revealed to Autocar that Jeep would aim at the highly profitable premium SUV market with a new Grand Wagoneer in late 2018. At the other end of the scale, Manley said the brand was actively pondering a supermini-sized SUV. “Never say never,” he said.
Strength and sophistication under the skin
The platform underpinning the Fiat 500X and Jeep Renegade is impressively sophisticated. It uses front and rear independent suspension with MacPherson struts in each corner - a feature shared with Porsche’s sports cars.
The four-wheel drive system is unusual. Engineered by GKN, it uses an electronically activated coupling to send power to the rear wheels, rather than the hydraulic clutch used by the common Haldex-based all-wheel drive systems.
The structure sitting atop this running gear is also impressively strong; the Jeep Renegade was awarded five stars in recent Euro NCAP crash tests.
Read our full review on the Fiat 500X SUV
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