A couple of days ago a P-plate Alfa 145 appeared in the Autocar car park. I couldn’t help but have a good sniff around it to remind myself what a bizarre machine it was.
The bread van styling (said have been created under Chris Bangle’s tenure at Fiat…yes, that Bangle) hasn’t aged too badly, but memories of the inadequacy of early 1990s Fiat cars came flooding back. The clunky interior and switchgear, wide panel gaps, iffy gearshift and odd driving position. Even by the standards of the day, Fiat was behind the curve.
I’m glad the 145 was there, because I’d just finished listening in to Fiat Auto’s marathon investor conference. Fiat Auto boss Sergio Marchionne revealed an amazing level of detail of Fiat’s future plans, both in vehicles and technology, much of which I’m still picking through.
One thing stood out. The quality of Fiat’s current technology. It’s already well-ahead of the pack with the MultiAir valve control system and is about to launch a turbo-charge two-cylinder petrol engine and dual clutch ‘boxes. MultiAir has transformed the abilities of down-sized petrol engines and will soon clean much of the pollution out of diesel engines. (Never forget that Fiat invented direct injection for diesel engines and still regrets licensing the technology to Bosch).
The presentation also detailed the make-up of the impressive Compact platform (which was launched under the Giulietta) and how it can be in two widths and two wheelbase lengths.
It’s clear that Fiat has some world class, even premium class, technology which is being rolled out over the next few years. The days if having to compromise with inappropriate or inadequate or ageing platforms are now gone. It has the basic building blocks for greatness.
By my reckoning, this means that the Fiat and Alfa only need to nail down the styling and interior treatments to complete transform its potential. Although cars like the 156, 159 and Brera have the restrained, polished, elegance needed for an Alfa, I thought the slightly awkward Mito was half a step backwards. Lots of people like the idea of owning an Alfa, so they need to be reassured by a design language that oozes restraint and longevity.
Fiat needs a similar considered approach, though its cars can certainly be more youthful and adventurous than Alfas. The original Bravo and Stilo haven’t aged well unlike, say, the first Focus. Class styling acts like the new Astra are a lesson for Fiat’s designers.
Marchionne revealed that the cost of the creating the ground-up new Alfa Giulietta was half of the costs of engineering the ground-up new Fiat Stilo. It’s a staggering achievement, and says much for Fiat’s accelerated development times. But if you can turn around a new car in as little as 15 months, there’s a big risk that the design stage will be rushed.
You’ve got the technology, Fiat. Now spend time on the design and the details.