Fresh Fiat plans, and another change of mind from the Italian maker as it looks to consolidate its position in Europe.
Having lately told us that it would make only the Panda and a family of models using the 500 name – the 500 itself, the 500L crossover and the imminent 500X SUV – and that the Punto supermini and the barely-alive Bravo would go unreplaced, boss Sergio Marchionne’s new five-year strategy now envisages follow-ups for both cars. Forget flip-flopping decisions; from a Fiat-loving sentimentalist’s viewpoint this is great news.
It’s history, and in car business terms ancient history at that, but Fiat was the company that defined the supermini segment in which the Punto competes, and did much to shape the cars in the class above it now so dominated by the Golf. Back in 1969, Turin launched the hugely successful front-drive 128, and though that car was a saloon, its mechanical format defined the Golf generation along with the earlier Autobianchi Primula and Simca 1100 hatchbacks that the company also had a hand in.
A couple of years later came Fiat’s 1971 127, and although this too had a boot it shortly after became a hatchback. Every supermini on the road today owes a conceptual debt to that Dante Giacosa-designed 127.
Fiat didn’t just pioneer the supermini format, it sold them by the million, with the 127, along with the Uno and Punto that succeded it, quite often standing proud as Europe’s best-selling models. But circumstances, and Fiat’s market strength, have changed, and Marchionne is not betting on a surging renaissance for the brand in these segments. And rightly so.
The brand has lost millions of sales as the Punto’s desirability has faded, the current aged-but-pretty model never matching its predecessors’ success. And Fiat’s appeal in the segment above began to fade decades ago, when the hugely popular 128 was replaced by the Strada/Ritmo. It's a decline that’s persisted despite the bold styling of the original Ritmo, the Tipo and the first-generation Bravo.
So as a Fiat sentimentalist, it’s great to see this change of mind. It just seemed wrong that Fiat should withdraw from the segments that it did so much to define. Whether replacing the Punto and Bravo will improve its European fortunes, which are far too reliant on the 500 and Panda, remains to be seen.