The chief architect of Fiat’s remarkable turnaround, CEO Sergio Marchionne, last night collected the Fiat 500’s latest and biggest accolade so far, the 2008 Car of the Year trophy, awarded late last year after a landslide vote by 58 leading motoring journalists in 22 countries across Europe.

In a ceremony organised by Stern, the German COTY sponsor, in a large Berlin classic car centre, a relaxed Marchionne, wearing his characteristic navy sweater and open-necked shirt, introduced the 300-strong audience to ten key members of the 500’s creative team from the stage, and claimed his “biggest contribution was to believe these people could build a great car in just 19 months.”

The 500 and its success has helped take Fiat a very long way in a short time, Marchionne said, but it was only one step in a much longer journey. The company now held 140,000 orders, more than a year’s production, but would increase production from 120,000 cars a year to 190,000.

Marchionne acknowledged that one of Fiat’s biggest remaining hurdle was to improve the fortunes of Alfa Romeo, and confirmed that he had given Fiat Auto boss, Luca de Meo, the “unforgivable burden” of bringing the famous marque back to health.

The management’s objective with Alfa is to improve the quality and appeal of existing products like the 159 and Brera, to launch two new small models — the “Junior” and the 149 (147 replacement) and achieve 300,000 sales a year by the time the Alfa Romeo is re-launched in the USA in 2010.

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