The Truth About Cars » Fiat http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 11 Sep 2014 23:24:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Fiat http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Ferrari Boss Steps Down As Marchionne Takes Control http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/ferrari-boss-steps-marchionne-takes-control/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/ferrari-boss-steps-marchionne-takes-control/#comments Wed, 10 Sep 2014 15:30:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=910106 Luca di Montezemolo, who has headed up Ferrari for over two decades and presided over record profits, has stepped down amid in-fighting with Fiat head Sergio Marchionne. After joining Ferrari in the early 1990′s, di Montezemolo led a campaign to revitalize Ferrari, bringing in a lineup of vastly improved products and putting their Formula 1 […]

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Luca di Montezemolo, who has headed up Ferrari for over two decades and presided over record profits, has stepped down amid in-fighting with Fiat head Sergio Marchionne.

After joining Ferrari in the early 1990′s, di Montezemolo led a campaign to revitalize Ferrari, bringing in a lineup of vastly improved products and putting their Formula 1 team back on the road to success. Under his stewardship, Ferrari dominated the latter half of the 1990′s and early 2000′s, with Michael Schumacher, Ross Brawn, Rory Byrne and other motorsports all-stars working as one of the most dominant Formula 1 outfits in history.

In addition to their on-track success, Ferrari also found great financial success in the now ubiquitous merchandise licensing deals that were spearheaded by di Montezemolo, which has allowed Ferrari to maintain a lucrative revenue stream despite capping production of the cars at 7,000 units annually.

But that wasn’t enough for Marchionne, who publicly criticized di Montezemolo’s performance in Formula 1 this past week. Speculation is rife that Marchionne wants to expand Ferrari’s production volumes to help it compete with Lamborghini, which many fear would dilute the brand’s exclusivity.

On the other hand, the departure of di Montezemolo, who is credited with introducing milestone vehicles like the 355 (which replaced the dreadful 348), is being seen as a turning point in the brand’s history. Marchionne has never had experience running any premium brands, and Ferrari is one of FCA’s few profit centers. But many fear that this delicate balance will be permanently disrupted.

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Brazilian Truth Commission May Sue Auto Makers For Crimes Against Humanity http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/brazilian-truth-commission-may-sue-companies-crimes-humanity/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/brazilian-truth-commission-may-sue-companies-crimes-humanity/#comments Wed, 10 Sep 2014 12:30:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=909674 João Paulo de Oliveira found it hard to find another job after he was fired by Rapistan, a Michigan-based conveyor belt maker, in 1980. He was detained or arrested another five times until the Brazilian military dictatorship, that had successfully realized a coup d’état in 1964, and returned power to civilians in 1985. Oliveira claims that […]

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João Paulo de Oliveira found it hard to find another job after he was fired by Rapistan, a Michigan-based conveyor belt maker, in 1980. He was detained or arrested another five times until the Brazilian military dictatorship, that had successfully realized a coup d’état in 1964, and returned power to civilians in 1985. Oliveira claims that no other company would hire him after he lost his job, and hge was constantly threatened by police. His crime? Being a union member at a time the military considered strikes as subversive communist movements.

Oliveira declares that he and many other union members suspected that private companies, including many auto makers collaborated with the state’s repressive forces. Apparently, his suspicions have been borne out.

Last Monday, September 8th, the Truth Commission, an organization installed by the federal government as an attempt to investigate human rights violations during those dark years, called the press to clarify and give their position on the rumors and news that have been circulating for days about companies collaborating with the State in its repression of labor movements.

According to the Commission, recently unearthed documents confirm that almost 70 Brazilian and multinational companies acted as “information sources” on union members and workers who were suspected of leading strike movements and of belonging to left-wing organizations. These documents contain name and addresses of the suspects as well as the names of companies that monitored their workers “in order to collaborate with the censorship and repression system during the last years of the civil-military dictatorship” in Brazil.

Sebastião Neto, executive secretary of the work group in charge of investigating collaboration between civilians, companies and military claims that, “Volkswagen, according to the documents, functioned as a sort of intelligence central of that group”. That group included other companies like Brazilian Petrobras, Engesa, Confab and multinationals like Ford and Ericson. They collaborated by keeping tabs on who showed up at union meetings, and exchanged information on worker movements and their plans for strikes and demands on working conditions.

Perhaps the most damning document as it hurt people on a personal level, was one found in the public archive of the state of São Paulo, dated 1981. In it are the names and addresses of some 450 workers and union members and the names of at least 67 companies that gave the information.  Among the auto sector companies charged with giving names are Volkswagen, Mercedes Benz, Ford, Chrysler, Scania, Westinghouse, Rolls Royce, Toyota and Toshiba, among other Brazilian corporations.

Lawyer Rosa Cardoso, coordinator of the Commission affirms that, “what happened in Brazil were selective arrests based on information given by companies. Almost 40 percent of those who were dead and disappeared at the time were workers.” According to her, even though the companies were not directly involved in the disappearances, these companies may be accused of crimes against humanity. “Arbitrary and illegal arrests and in places where torture happened are also considered torture in international law”. Such was the case as these illegally detained workers didn’t even have arrest warrants expedited against them.

The lawyer affirms the Commission will present in its final report by December 16. It will include two chapters reporting the persecution of workers and the unions, and the relations between companies and the dictatorship. To help clarify this aspect, Cardoso promises a public hearing where representatives of the companies mentioned in the documents will be called upon to present their testimony.

Being accused as a sort of coordinator of the collaboration between military and companies, Volkswagen has declared that they will conduct their own investigation. According to them, Volkswagen is the only large-scale company in Brazil that, so far, has made a public commitment to “investigate any and all traces” of collaboration between its employees and the military regime. According to a release given to the press, Volkswagen claims they are, “internationally recognized as a company that treats seriously its corporate history”. In Brazil, Volkswagen claims, “the company will deal with this matter in the same way”.

Other companies so far have not commented or have downplayed their responsibility. According to this article, dated Friday, September 5, Mercedes Benz claims that the company “does not confirm” the alleged collaboration and is “non-partisan and zeals for the confidentiality of employees’ data”.  Ford has refused to comment. Toyota and Fiat, who now owns Chrysler through FCA, stated they have no registers of the “possible abuse” that occurred back in that time. Toyota, thorough its local Public Relations department wrote, “We would like to remind others that we are discussing something that happened over 30 years ago”.

Reviewing all the information available a cynic might think the Truth Commission is only interested in reparations. A more generous person might believe that people are interested in revisiting the past to point out mistakes and not repeat them in future. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle and it seems evident that at the time there was a struggle in Brazil between those who wanted to keep the status quo and those who would subvert it. Workers and unions probably helped the re-democratization of the country along, while many in the military and civil society believed such actions were fundamental in thwarting a Communist takeover. Companies may have helped the military out of fear or ideology. It is terrible that people got killed or hurt. In the end, relations between civil society, labor movements and government will be better understood because of the efforts of the Commission and hopefully mistakes, on both parts, will be avoided going forward.

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A Look At Western Europe’s Most Popular Brands From 25 Years Ago http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/look-western-europes-popular-brands-25-years-ago/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/look-western-europes-popular-brands-25-years-ago/#comments Tue, 09 Sep 2014 21:22:07 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=904681   From The Machine That Changed The World and the Financial Times: a companion to our article showing a breakdown of the most popular brands in Europe today. While Volkswagen is still dominante, Both of PSAs nameplates have fallen from their former glory to be also-ran brands on the continent. Fiat, while strong regionally, has weakened significantly. […]

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From The Machine That Changed The World and the Financial Times: a companion to our article showing a breakdown of the most popular brands in Europe today.

While Volkswagen is still dominante, Both of PSAs nameplates have fallen from their former glory to be also-ran brands on the continent. Fiat, while strong regionally, has weakened significantly. Rover no longer exists. Volvo is practically a non-entity.

On the other hand, the Japanese can no longer be lumped into a singular entity (Nissan is particularly strong in Europe, with the Qashqai and Juke), and the Koreans are wholly absent from this chart. Meanwhile, Hyundai and Kia are challenging some established European brands in their home markets?

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Ram de Mexico Will Get Fiat Strada Based Small Truck http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/ram-de-mexico-will-get-fiat-strada-based-small-truck/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/ram-de-mexico-will-get-fiat-strada-based-small-truck/#comments Tue, 09 Sep 2014 17:23:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=909386   Speculation about a Ram small truck based on the Fiat Strada has been rampant recently, and it looks like Ram is getting ready to move in that direction for the Mexican market. A Brazilian outlet is reporting that the Strada will be sold in Mexico as the Ram 750. The 750 will be offered […]

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Speculation about a Ram small truck based on the Fiat Strada has been rampant recently, and it looks like Ram is getting ready to move in that direction for the Mexican market.

A Brazilian outlet is reporting that the Strada will be sold in Mexico as the Ram 750. The 750 will be offered in both single and double cab configurations and powered by small 4-cylinder engines.

Perhaps these were the Strada mules being tested around Detroit, and there were never any plans to bring a small truck to the United States. With UNECE rules and a totally different set of market conditions (as well as no chicken tax), Mexico is a much better place to import a small, front-drive car-based pickup than the United States. Or maybe FCA will surprise us all?

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A Look At Europe’s Top Selling Brands By Country http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/look-europes-top-selling-brands-country/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/look-europes-top-selling-brands-country/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 11:30:56 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=904657   From the Twitter account of Bob Flavin comes this map of Europe, overlayed with each country’s best-selling auto brand. Volkswagen, along with Skoda (and to a lesser extent, SEAT and Audi) are far and away the dominant force in Europe, with Fiat, Renault (and Dacia) trailing behind. Regionally, Audi is popular in wealthy enclaves […]

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From the Twitter account of Bob Flavin comes this map of Europe, overlayed with each country’s best-selling auto brand.

Volkswagen, along with Skoda (and to a lesser extent, SEAT and Audi) are far and away the dominant force in Europe, with Fiat, Renault (and Dacia) trailing behind.

Regionally, Audi is popular in wealthy enclaves like Monaco, while Skoda dominates in Central Europe. Dacia is abundant in developing countries as diverse as Romania, Moldova, Morocco and Algeria while Fiat is tops not just in Italy, but Turkey and Serbia as well – countries where Fiat builds vehicles locally.

Popular brands in North America, like Ford, Toyota and Honda are much smaller players in the continent. While the Fiesta, Focus and other nameplates enjoy widespread success throughout Europe, Toyota and Honda are much smaller players. And most tellingly, none of the PSA nameplates (Peugeot and Citroen) are present. Or Hyundai/Kia, for that matter.

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Fiat 500 Sales Declines: 14 Months And Counting http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/fiat-500-sales-declines-14-months-counting/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/fiat-500-sales-declines-14-months-counting/#comments Wed, 13 Aug 2014 13:42:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=889810 After 15 consecutive months in which U.S. sales of the Fiat 500 increased on a year-over-year basis, U.S. sales of the Fiat 500 have declined in each of the last 14 months. Not surprisingly, the more recent streak began the exact same month in which Fiat’s large, less popular 500L arrived. During the former 15-month […]

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2012 Fiat 500TAfter 15 consecutive months in which U.S. sales of the Fiat 500 increased on a year-over-year basis, U.S. sales of the Fiat 500 have declined in each of the last 14 months.

Not surprisingly, the more recent streak began the exact same month in which Fiat’s large, less popular 500L arrived.

During the former 15-month span, Fiat USA averaged 3746 500 sales per month. Over the last 14 months, that average has fallen 26% to 2773 units per month.

For the Fiat brand, the overall sales results haven’t looked that bad. After all, Fiat sells an extra 1117 cars every month by way of a nameplate that didn’t exist in this market before last summer.

Since June of last year, brand-wide Fiat sales have fallen in America only three times: in September, October, and November of last year, a period in which volume slid 14% even with the extra vehicle in showrooms. Granted, Fiat brand sales haven’t fallen often, but that doesn’t mean sales were high. This is a low-volume brand as it currently stands, with two niche products.

Taken on its own, the 500, not able to top 44,000 units in 2012 before a near-8000-unit decline in 2013, is on pace for fewer than 31,000 sales in 2014.

It’s not as though 2014 has been an especially bright year for passenger car sales. While the overall market is expanding for a dozen different reasons, car sales are up less than 1% compared with the first seven months of 2013. The 500’s 14% drop, following up on an 18% annual year-over-year decline in 2013, is harsh by the overall market’s standards, but perhaps not by the standards of like-minded cars.

Fiat 500 U.S. sales chartVolkswagen Beetle volume is down 30%. Sales of non-Countryman/Paceman Minis, naturally impacted by the departure of an old model and the slow arrival of a new one, have fallen 35%. (The 500 is currently outselling both the five-pronged Mini car range and the Beetle on year-to-date terms, but it did not do so in July specifically.)

Hyundai Veloster sales are down 4%. The Ford Fiesta (-7%), Kia Rio (-11%), and transitioning Honda Fit (-12%) understand the 500’s pain.

Did you believe that America’s interest in the 500 would so rapidly fade, or did you simply believe that the 500 wouldn’t rise as high as Fiat had originally hoped?

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Autoworkers, Agribusiness, and Algae: Toledo Back in Business, For Now http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/autoworkers-agribusiness-algae-toledo-back-business-now/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/autoworkers-agribusiness-algae-toledo-back-business-now/#comments Tue, 05 Aug 2014 13:37:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=881618 Toledo, Ohio has just squeaked by a major environmental crisis. A toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie poisoned the city’s water supply, leaving over 400,000 residents high and dry for three days. Restaurants, schools and businesses closed, the National Guard trucked in water, and the governor declared a state of emergency. Meanwhile, Fiat-Chrysler had to […]

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Toledo, Ohio has just squeaked by a major environmental crisis. A toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie poisoned the city’s water supply, leaving over 400,000 residents high and dry for three days. Restaurants, schools and businesses closed, the National Guard trucked in water, and the governor declared a state of emergency. Meanwhile, Fiat-Chrysler had to resort to creative measures to keep its Toledo Jeep plant running.

Operations stayed on track at the Toledo complex, thanks to some quick thinking by management, and the dedication of line workers. According to a company spokesman, the plant used tanker trucks and bottled water to overcome the crisis and keep 5,000 employees sufficiently hydrated. Even a short closure of the plant would have been bad news for FCA. The Cherokee and the Wrangler are among the company’s fastest-selling and most profitable models, accounting for a major chunk of the partnership’s recent run into the black.

With the ban on tap water now lifted, the worst of the crisis seems to be over. Even so, the threat to the Lake Erie watershed and the millions of people who depend on it still looms. Toledo’s water was poisoned with microcystin, a byproduct of blue-green algae. The toxin causes liver failure at fairly low concentrations. It’s difficult to filter out, especially at high concentrations. And it can’t be removed via boiling- that only concentrates the poison. In other words, it’s a public health nightmare and nearly as bad for business as a power outage. Preventing the blue-green algae is the only realistic prophylactic, which itself has been a decades-long struggle in the most polluted of the Great Lakes.

Blue-green algae primarily feeds off phosphorous and other organic pollutants. In the 60s and 70s, the primary source of these pollutants were the cities and industrial establishments on the Lake Erie shore. Untreated sewage and industrial byproducts choked the lake, eventually leading to fish kills and toxic blooms. The situation turned around in the 80s, after regulation and billion-dollar cleanups helped remedy the pollution. In the 90s, though, the situation began to reverse course. New farming techniques relied on heavy application of phosphorous and other fertilizers. This produced increased yields, but increased the inflow of organic pollutants into the lake. Zebra mussels also invaded the lake after 1988, producing more phosphorous and contributing to a vicious cycle of algae production. It wasn’t long until the algae blooms reared their ugly heads yet again.

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                  In 2011, Lake Erie suffered one of its worst blooms ever. Nearly a sixth of the lake’s surface was covered in algae, almost 2,000 square miles. Phosphorous was again the culprit, but it alone wasn’t enough to explain the bloom’s severity. Instead, scientists point to climate change: specifically, the warming of Lake Erie’s waters. Warm water combined with torrential rains produced the catastrophic algae bloom, as more pollutants washed into Lake Erie from farmland. Scientists now fear that a combination of pollutants and changes in Lake Erie’s ecology could lead to more frequent algal bloom events. Unless something is done to rein in the green tide, more drinking water bans could be in the future for the communities that draw their supply from the lake.

What does that mean for the regional auto industry? Several major auto plants and their suppliers operate in the Lake Erie watershed area, in cities like Cleveland, Detroit, and Toledo. In addition, much of Lake Erie is a major commercial route for freight shipping. Many parts of the automobile production process are highly water-intensive, such as painting and steelmaking. Obviously, the standards for drinking water and water for industrial uses are quite different. But if a city like Cleveland is forced to shut down its water treatment system entirely in response to an algal bloom, it would spell big trouble for automakers with facilities in the area. The welfare of the workers is another factor to consider. Toledo Jeep dodged a bullet this time, but in future water crises it might not be so lucky.

The economic vitality of the Lake Erie region depends on ensuring the health of the lake. That became apparent after the infamous 1969 Cuyahoga River fire, which embarrassed Ohio residents and hurt the local economy. There’s been an enormous amount of progress since then, but new technologies present new challenges. Clamping down on the algae blooms is essential to ensuring the competitiveness of the industries around Lake Erie. The environment and the industrial world are never completely divorced from one another.

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Dispatches Do Brasil: Young Americans http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/dispatches-do-brasil-young-americans/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/dispatches-do-brasil-young-americans/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 20:41:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=875449 FCA has been trying to broaden the appeal of its Fiat line in the US. Success may be a ways off, into the future, or at least won’t materialize until the Jeep Renegade and Fiat 500X are launch. But that won’t stop the Italians from trying. In a bid to show off its minivan as a […]

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FCA has been trying to broaden the appeal of its Fiat line in the US. Success may be a ways off, into the future, or at least won’t materialize until the Jeep Renegade and Fiat 500X are launch. But that won’t stop the Italians from trying. In a bid to show off its minivan as a viable alternative for active young folks, Fiat will introduce its 500L Vans edition at the upcoming US Open – of surfing (yes, surfing, not the famous tennis tournament).

Co-sponsored by Vans (a shoe company), this concept relies heavily on visual cues to draw the attention of the cool dudes and gals that gather at such venues.

This 500L distinguishes itself by the four DRLs grafted on to the front bumper that look like the heavy duty lights seen on “adventure” vehicles, a blue and white two-tone paint job, a plaid roof, tennis sole looking pedals, special upholstery for the seats (that will remind some of a palm tree, others of a different plant), blacked out wheels, roof rack for surf boards and other items and some decals on the dashboard featuring myriad brands.

I love the paintjob and seat covers. I think the plaid roof is silly, but apparently plaid is “in” right now. I’m not old by any stretch of the imagination, but perhaps I’m out of touch.

Motivation is provided by Fiat’s 1.4 turbo good for 160 horses. It also features a 6-speed manual. And that, to me, is the most puzzling feature? How are American kids going to drive a stick?

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Which Will Be Our First Renault? Mitsubishi Or Ram? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/which-will-be-our-first-renault-mitsubishi-or-ram/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/which-will-be-our-first-renault-mitsubishi-or-ram/#comments Thu, 24 Jul 2014 12:30:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=872338 First it was Mitsubishi that inked a deal with Renault Samsung to bring their wares over here as Mitsubishi branded cars. Now Fiat is getting into the action, by having Renault produce an unspecified commercial vehicle. Renault and Fiat announced a vaguely worded deal to have Renault build a commercial vehicle for Fiat starting in […]

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First it was Mitsubishi that inked a deal with Renault Samsung to bring their wares over here as Mitsubishi branded cars. Now Fiat is getting into the action, by having Renault produce an unspecified commercial vehicle.

Renault and Fiat announced a vaguely worded deal to have Renault build a commercial vehicle for Fiat starting in 2016. There is no indication of what it could be, but now that the Ram ProMaster lineup is firmly Fiat-based, it’s not out of the question. Between that and the Samsung SM5, we’ll have an even better idea of all of the wonderful oddities currently off limits to our unsophisticated automotive palates…

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Volkswagen Interested In Buying Fiat http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/volkswagen-interested-in-buying-fiat/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/volkswagen-interested-in-buying-fiat/#comments Thu, 17 Jul 2014 13:14:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=867258 German business publication Manager Magazin is reporting that Volkswagen could be interested in acquiring Fiat. The Agnelli family, which controls the industrial conglomerate, is apparently looking to exit the volume car manufacturing business. According to the article, the Agnelli family would retain Ferrari, while Volkswagen would benefit from Chrysler and its associated brands by giving it a foothold […]

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German business publication Manager Magazin is reporting that Volkswagen could be interested in acquiring Fiat. The Agnelli family, which controls the industrial conglomerate, is apparently looking to exit the volume car manufacturing business.

According to the article, the Agnelli family would retain Ferrari, while Volkswagen would benefit from Chrysler and its associated brands by giving it a foothold in America, where it has traditionally struggled. VW CEO Ferdinand Peich has long coveted Alfa Romeo, though it’s unclear what would happen to FCA’s other brands.

Any deal would be faced with a number of obstacles, including financial issues and inevitable consolidation of the respective brand portfolios. But the Agnelli family’s desire to exit the volume car manufacturing business is a wise one, given the constantly shaky market conditions in Europe, their exposure to the hardest hit regions of that continent and the massive overcapacity crisis currently plaguing its assembly plants. By contrast, Ferrari is a license to print money, generating enormous profits from its merchandising arm alone. Sergio Marchionne has long said that economies of scale above 6 million units are required to survive in this next era of the automotive business – this may be the most expedient way for him to achieve that goal.

 

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Fiat Sets Date Of Shareholder Meeting For August 1 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/fiat-sets-date-of-shareholder-meeting-for-august-1/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/fiat-sets-date-of-shareholder-meeting-for-august-1/#comments Fri, 04 Jul 2014 13:00:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=858633 Own any shares in Fiat S.p.A.? The automaker just announced it will hold its next general assembly of all shareholders August 1, where the topic of discussion will be the approval of the merger of Fiat with Chrysler Group to become Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. Reuters reports shareholders will also be asked to approve the […]

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A new Fiat Chrysler Automobiles sign is pictured after being unveiled at Chrysler Group World Headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan

Own any shares in Fiat S.p.A.? The automaker just announced it will hold its next general assembly of all shareholders August 1, where the topic of discussion will be the approval of the merger of Fiat with Chrysler Group to become Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V.

Reuters reports shareholders will also be asked to approve the merger of Fiat with its wholly owned subsidiary Netherlands Fiat Investments N.V. prior to the FCA vote. The meeting would allow CEO Sergio Marchionne to list FCA on the New York Stock Exchange by October at the earliest.

Those who approve FCA’s existence will receive one FCA common share for every Fiat share they hold, while those against will have the right of withdrawal for the next 15 days, with the redemption price set to €7.727 ($10.51 USD) per Fiat share.

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FCA To Sell Re-Badged Mitsubshi Mirages In Colt Redux http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/fca-to-sell-re-badged-mitsubshi-mirages-in-colt-redux/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/fca-to-sell-re-badged-mitsubshi-mirages-in-colt-redux/#comments Fri, 27 Jun 2014 05:39:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=854473 Chrysler will re-badge the Mitsubishi Attrage (the sedan version of the much-loved Mitsubishi Mirage) for sale in Asian markets. Sounds crazy, right? Not really. Chrysler has a history of selling small Mitsubishis under their own brand in North America, but the agreement with Mitsubishi will cover Asia, a region where Chrysler has never been particularly […]

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Chrysler will re-badge the Mitsubishi Attrage (the sedan version of the much-loved Mitsubishi Mirage) for sale in Asian markets. Sounds crazy, right? Not really.

Chrysler has a history of selling small Mitsubishis under their own brand in North America, but the agreement with Mitsubishi will cover Asia, a region where Chrysler has never been particularly strong. No specific markets or brand decisions were announced for the Thai-built sedan, but we’d like to humbly suggest a name for the new car: the Colt.

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2015 Ram ProMaster City Revealed http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/2015-ram-promaster-city-revealed/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/2015-ram-promaster-city-revealed/#comments Thu, 26 Jun 2014 04:01:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=848418 Pulling up to the intersection of Flower Shop Lane, Contractor Boulevard and Utility Road is the Fiat Doblò-based 2015 Ram ProMaster City, the second van to emerge from Ram’s relationship with Fiat Professional. The unibody van can be had in either Wagon or Tradesman Cargo base trim with SLT trim as an upgrade to both […]

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Pulling up to the intersection of Flower Shop Lane, Contractor Boulevard and Utility Road is the Fiat Doblò-based 2015 Ram ProMaster City, the second van to emerge from Ram’s relationship with Fiat Professional.

The unibody van can be had in either Wagon or Tradesman Cargo base trim with SLT trim as an upgrade to both bases, and boasts a total of eight configurations involving security panels and rear and side windows. Cargo volume comes to 131.7 cubic feet with a width of 60.4 inches above the wheel wells, 48.4 inches in between. Height is 51.8 inches, with a step-in height of 21.5 inches, and payload capacity is 1,883 pounds.

Up front, the Tigershark 2.4-liter I4 with MultiAir2 technology puts 178 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels via its nine-speed automatic transmission. The transmission has a final-drive ratio of 3.73:1, good for improved fuel economy over the Ford Transit Connect, Nissan NV200 and Chevrolet City Express, as well as a nil-to-30 mph time of 3.7 seconds. ESC — one of 34 safety features on-board, including brake/park interlock and rearview camera — keeps it all together while making deliveries, and the van’s Uconnect helps maintain contact between provider and customer during service calls.

The ProMaster City variants will drive off the container ships to all 2,300 Ram dealerships later this year from the TOFAS plant in Bursa, Turkey, with upfitting to be handled at the Chrysler Group Transformation Center in Baltimore, Md., and Mopar contributing to the customization. No price has been given thus far.

2015 Ram ProMaster City 01 2015 Ram ProMaster City 02 2015 Ram ProMaster City 03 2015 Ram ProMaster City 04 2015 Ram ProMaster City 05 2015 Ram ProMaster City 06 2015 Ram ProMaster City 07 2015 Ram ProMaster City 08 2015 Ram ProMaster City 09 2015 Ram ProMaster City 10 2015 ProMaster City wide-ratio 9-speed automatic transmission 2015 Ram ProMaster City Chassis 2015 Ram ProMaster City 2.4-liter Tigershark engine with 9-speed 2015 Ram ProMaster City bi-link rear suspension VIper A Ram Tool Bag and Caddy is among the Mopar items available to c 2015 ProMaster City 2015 Ram ProMaster City SLT interior 2015 Ram ProMaster City SLT interior 2015 Ram ProMaster City SLT Wagon interior 2015 Ram ProMaster City badge

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Rental Review: 2014 Fiat 500L “Easy” FWD http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/rental-review-2014-fiat-500l-easy-fwd/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/rental-review-2014-fiat-500l-easy-fwd/#comments Wed, 18 Jun 2014 10:00:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=845017 “Cheap and cheerful.” It’s a phrase the Brit mags like to use all the time to describe poverty-priced cars that attempt to use design and color to mask their humble aspirations. Think Scion xB compared to Toyota Tercel — but nobody does the C&C music factory like the Europeans. The original Twingo set the template, […]

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“Cheap and cheerful.” It’s a phrase the Brit mags like to use all the time to describe poverty-priced cars that attempt to use design and color to mask their humble aspirations. Think Scion xB compared to Toyota Tercel — but nobody does the C&C music factory like the Europeans. The original Twingo set the template, but it’s had many a riff played on it since then.

Now we have a cheap-and-cheerful from a Euro manufacturer, built in Serbia, with as much design and flair as you can stand. Whether it’s the worst car for sale in America or one of the best depends entirely on how cheerful you need your cheap to be.

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We’re reviewing a Kia Soul in these pages today, so it was both lucky and good than I rented one for last weekend’s WRL race at Texas World Speedway. I have )plenty of experience driving a Kia Soul in Houston. No, wait, I meant to post this review, the other one is fiction. In any event, the Soul also pretends to be cheap-and-cheerful. I say “pretends” because it isn’t really that cheap anymore and it’s approaching respectability in its design and execution. The deal Kia is currently making with the American public is this: you pay about what you’d pay for a Honda, give or take a bit, and we’ll throw in some warranty and some Audi-derived flair to help you get over the brand stigma. (Yes, I know who designs Kias now — Peter Schreyer.)

The 500L, on the other hand — well, when I first sat in the thing at the Hertz office I couldn’t believe what an utter piece of shit it was. Like a Toyota Corolla and about everything else nowadays, it has a three-rotating-ring climate control system. Unlike with the Toyota, however, in this car the rings wobble. They’re so loose I worried that they would fall off. Adjusting the driver’s seat gave me another case of the wobbles — the hollow-molded handles to adjust the seatback and height gave no sensation of being firmly attached to anything at all. The handbrake was bizarrely shaped and the flash lines from the plastic molding were sharply evident. There are no manual door lock actuators on the doors themselves. That would cost money. The shifter found “D” with a very Italian vagueness.

And then the engine quit.

For at least five seconds, I just sat there with my mouth open. As someone who races a variety of Lemons-spec cars across the country and who once owned a MA href=”http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/09/the-red-marquis-the-redheaded-girl-and-the-red-mist/”>1980 Mercury Marquis, I am no stranger to the phenomenon known as “failure to proceed”, but in a 2014-model automobile with 4000 miles on the clock?

I re-selected Park, twisted the switchblade key in the ignition, and the car caught before dying yet again!

A third time was the charm, but throughout the weekend, the Fiat would often indicate it’s reluctance to run in the ninety-five-degree Texas weather by cutting out once or twice when started cold, always starting by the third try. Okay. We’re rolling. Time to take a look around.

Although the 500L shares nothing with the infamous Multipla wide-body CUV, the long dashboard, multiple fishbowl windows in front of the driver, and the general turret-toppedness of the thing make it hard to believe such is the case. Really, it’s a relative of the upcoming Renegade. Think Caliber to the Patriot and you’ll have the idea, sort of. There’s a lot of glass, some of it wavy, and it’s all pretty far away from you in all directions. You want Euro? You got it. This is how our nominal superiors on the Continent imagine high-seat cars, as compared to something like a modern Tahoe where you get the cockpit of an Impala mounted to the frame of an Iowa-class in an arrangement that will be familiar to anyone who’s ever seen a Star Destroyer.

I slapped the thing into Drive again and noticed that, as is also a Euro market practice, the red-LCD display between the dials showed which gear I’d selected. This is a nice feature, one I remember with pleasure from my Phaetons. You get “D4″ or “D6″ or “D1″ instead of “D”. If you don’t like being surprised by shifting, it’s good to have. It’s also useful because when you’re low-speed cruising through town you can accurately estimate whether you’ll need to press for kickdown in order to make a move in traffic. Already in third? Probably okay. If the transmission has drifted up to fifth, you’d better ask for a shift.

Particularly if, as is the case here, you’re asking 1.4L of light-pressured turbocharged four-cylinder to motivate 3,203 pounds with just 160 horsepower. The Fiat 500L will never be confused with an acceptably rapid automobile and such is its lassitude that even I, who just got a six-point speeding ticket in another turbocharged Euro-mobile last week, frequently found myself dawdling along at 65mph on the 75mph Texas freeways. It’s clearly never in a hurry. The good news is that the engine’s relatively flat torque curve approximates a big-cube four-banger like the Chrysler 2.4 pretty well and it’s never dangerous in a merging situation. Hilariously, the twin-clutch transmission allows the thing to “brap” a bit when it’s in a hurry, just like a GTI. Again, you want Euro, you got it.

How’s it handle? It definitely does. My plans to take it around Texas World Speedway were canceled because my flight arrived late-ish and therefore I couldn’t get both this and the car I was actually going to race around the course in the allotted time, but hey, on the street it’s dynamically competent. To some degree, the 500L’s abilities in the steer-stop department are masked by the form factor and the seating. If you had a car that put up these same numbers but sat you on the ground in the manner of, say, a previous-generation Civic, you’d be quite pleased. It’s just that being up in the fishbowl makes the whole enterprise seem a bit stupid. I’m pretty sure this thing would dust most CUVs around a track, if you really wanted to make it happen.
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As befits a “Fiatsler” product, the 500L has a uConnect center screen. Right now, if you buy one from dealer stock, you’ll get a better uConnect than this one, free of charge, and it will include navigation. This one’s okay, however, offering the same virtues you get in a 300C. (Incidentally, I am the only major TTAC contributor who doesn’t think uConnect is better than MyFordTouch, so take this with a grain of salt.) It was a little picky about reconnecting to my Galaxy upon startup, but overall the Bluetooth integration was solid. The sound quality was less so. Not a lot of juice in the amp.

Cargo and passenger space, as you’d expect, is excellent and from my experience it matches what’s available elsewhere in the segment. The rear seats are as comfortable as the fronts, which is to say pretty good and supportive over long drives. I covered nearly 800 miles in three days during my drive, having to fold my fractured frame into a couple of Kirkey race seats in the intervals between trips, and I was never in any pain or discomfort. It’s a good way to travel. The A/C, despite feeling desperately flimsy in operation, was up to the demands of cooling this very glazing-intensive car in Texas heat.

Overall, the 500L appears to be a very nice design put together in completely slipshod fashion. I was prepared to give it a bit of a diss-track review. The lousy quality and will-it-run business made it easily the worst car I’ve rented this year or last, in plain functional terms. As I was preparing my notes, however, I took the time to build my test vehicle in FIAT’s configuator.

This, as the say, changed everything.

Equipped as my “Easy” DCT model was, net price before discounts was $21,095. Which means out the door for under twenty grand. Were I willing to take a six-speed manual transmission over the DCT — would I be? You think so? — the net-net would be mid-nineteen grand. Compare that to a Honda CR-V EX with similar equipment at $25,320 or a Ford Escape at what is probably, given that company’s current pricing strategy, $118,255. For that money, I’d get navigation and a suite of other upgrades if I took it from dealer stock, which makes the real price gap between this and the competition an easy seven grand.

Cheap indeed.

At that price, I’ve changed my mind. If you can trade build quality away for a double helping of design whimsy, and you’d like to save something like thirty percent of the purchase price, the 500L is recommended with reservations. And those reservations are: you didn’t pay Honda money, it doesn’t look like the God-awful CR-V, don’t expect it to run forever with no problems. You say you want a Euro car? You got it. Just remember that it’s not Japanese.

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Alfa 4C Arrives In 86 North American Showrooms, Brings 342 Pounds Of Luggage http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/alfa-4c-arrives-in-86-north-american-showrooms-brings-342-pounds-of-luggage/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/alfa-4c-arrives-in-86-north-american-showrooms-brings-342-pounds-of-luggage/#comments Wed, 11 Jun 2014 10:00:11 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=841969 Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has just released their initial list of dealerships who will have the right to sell the Alfa Romeo 4C to North American customers, while the sports car will bring 342 pounds of luggage for the trip from Modena to the selected showrooms. Autoblog reports all but four dealerships will be in the […]

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Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has just released their initial list of dealerships who will have the right to sell the Alfa Romeo 4C to North American customers, while the sports car will bring 342 pounds of luggage for the trip from Modena to the selected showrooms.

Autoblog reports all but four dealerships will be in the United States — the remaining four are in Canada — and the majority of those will be concentrated in three of the 33 states on the initial list: California, Florida and Texas. The chosen ones were drawn from a list of existing Fiat and Maserati dealerships, and though expected cities like Los Angeles, Orlando and Austin will be among the chosen, a few big names didn’t make the first cut, including New York, Seattle and Louisville, Ky.

Meanwhile, the chosen dealerships “will have a unique staff dedicated to the brand’s premium market clientele,” per the words of Chrysler Group vice president of network development Peter Grady. The dealerships are undergoing “an intensive curriculum” to ensure the success of the 4C and limited-edition 4C Launch Edition as FCA presses forward toward its goal of over 300 Alfa dealerships in North America.

As for the 4C itself, Jalopnik says the sports car packed on an additional 342 pounds to its 2,153-pound Euro-spec frame for the U.S. market, coming into port at 2,495 pounds. Aside from the usual federalization mandates, some of the weight comes from the standard air-con and radio equipped in the U.S.-spec model.

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The Dakota That Could Have Been http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/the-dakota-that-could-have-been/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/the-dakota-that-could-have-been/#comments Tue, 03 Jun 2014 14:23:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=836241 Sometime around 2012, a Ram Trucks source told TTAC about an investigation into a smaller pickup for the brand, one that could have even turned out to be a front-drive pickup. “We won’t do another Dakota,” said our source, “but maybe something else.”. By all accounts, that truck would have been based on one of […]

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Sometime around 2012, a Ram Trucks source told TTAC about an investigation into a smaller pickup for the brand, one that could have even turned out to be a front-drive pickup. “We won’t do another Dakota,” said our source, “but maybe something else.”. By all accounts, that truck would have been based on one of Fiat’s small, unibody front-drive pickups. But now, Fiat seems to want a Dakota of its own.

Automotive News reports that Fiat will get a new body-on-frame midsize truck starting in 2016, which will be a variant of the Mitsubishi L200. The Thai-built L200 is a smaller, body-on-frame pickup with rear or four-wheel drive and both gasoline and diesel engines, making it a good fit for Fiat’s commercial vehicle lineup. And it’s very likely that we’ll never seen it here.

FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne told reporters at the most recent 5-year plan that FCA had tried out a smaller truck at clinics, but was unable to wow the crowd, let alone make a business case for such a truck. The L200 isn’t homologated for North America either, and a smaller truck isn’t a great fit for FCA in terms of CAFE either. FCA is already lagging behind other OEMs in terms of CAFE footprint, and small trucks are one of the worst vehicles when it comes to meeting those standards.

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QOTD: Marchionne Says Government Made Him Sell Fiat 500 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/qotd-marchionne-says-government-made-him-sell-fiat-500/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/qotd-marchionne-says-government-made-him-sell-fiat-500/#comments Wed, 21 May 2014 16:38:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=828290 An event held at Washington D.C’s Brookings Institute saw FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne and former National Economic Council head Larry Summers discuss the auto bailout on its five-year anniversary. As always, Marchionne had some colorful commentary, with a one interesting nugget about Fiat. According to Christina Rogers of the Wall Street Journal, Marchionne claimed that […]

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An event held at Washington D.C’s Brookings Institute saw FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne and former National Economic Council head Larry Summers discuss the auto bailout on its five-year anniversary. As always, Marchionne had some colorful commentary, with a one interesting nugget about Fiat.

According to Christina Rogers of the Wall Street Journal, Marchionne claimed that the Fiat 500 was only imported to the United States due to the government’s hand, with Marchionne stating

“It was a condition assigned to the [bailout] deal”

This has previously never been stated in any bailout related discussion – only the Dodge Dart and its 40 mpg capability has been highlighted as a specific requirement of the bailout, in terms of product.

If this is indeed correct, it would add some context to Fiat’s confusing position in the marketplace. For Fiat to thrive in America, it would make sense to add more product that is better aligned to American tastes. All we’ve gotten are the 500 and 500L, which are both unsuited to the vast majority of American tastes and driving conditions.

So far, Fiat’s American arrival has been an expensive endeavor that has not exactly fared well. The costs of homologating the cars, building the 500 in a new factory in the NAFTA zone, establishing a dealer network and marketing the car is certain to be a $1-billion dollar expenditure. Perhaps this is just a bit of bluster by Sergio to obfuscate the fact that Fiat isn’t burning up the sales charts in America. I am sure that Fiat dealers would like a more lucid answer.

 

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Dispatches Do Brasil: No Way, It’s The Palio Way! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/dispatches-do-brasil-no-way-its-the-palio-way/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/dispatches-do-brasil-no-way-its-the-palio-way/#comments Wed, 14 May 2014 11:00:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=818650 As I mentioned in my recent analysis of FCA’s plans for Brazil, Fiat is chugging along at almost full capacity and doesn’t really need new cars to compete here. However, that doesn’t mean they will quit fiddling with their product line. Behold the latest and greatest in South America: Fiat’s adventurous new Palio Fire Way! […]

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As I mentioned in my recent analysis of FCA’s plans for Brazil, Fiat is chugging along at almost full capacity and doesn’t really need new cars to compete here. However, that doesn’t mean they will quit fiddling with their product line. Behold the latest and greatest in South America: Fiat’s adventurous new Palio Fire Way!

According to Brazilian enthusiast site bestcars.com.br, the latest Fiat to sport the trappings of the very successful aventureiro idea is the the Palio Fire. Launched way back in 1996, the bonesof the car has remained untouched, while the front and back have been redesigned (Giorgetto Giugiaro penned this version) and the mechanicals have been completely overhauled. With a ride height 15 mm taller than the regular version, what else does the new Palio offer consumers for the price of 27,860 reais (about 4,000 more than the regular)?

They get some “fancy” decals, plastic cladding on the wheel openings, plastic protection on the bottom of bumpers, plastic side mirror covers and plastic hubcaps. Lots of plastic. Besides that they get a tachometer and (very slightly) better seat fabrics and blacked out headlights.

The Palio Fire Way comes with the same equipment as the regular version, like the now mandatory dual frontal airbags and ABS, and – wait for it – internal manual controls for the side mirrors and clock.  Air conditioning, power steering, windows and locks, alloy wheels, more airbags, really anything that’s worth having, is an option and costs high dollars to get.

The Palio Fire isn’t a complete crapcan. It actually gives you a soft, compliant ride, seating for five is tight but possible, the trunk will hold a week’s worth of groceries or the luggage of a small family on vacations. The 1.0 engine puts out 70-ish horses and sounds pretty good doing so and is responsive. Fuel economy is not bad.

Finally, Brazil is a very large country with miles of back roads, unpaved roads, broken roads. For those out in the country and who can’t pay for a pickup or need a car to take the family along, the extra height is quite useful. Even in Brazilian cities, some see benefits in the extra ride height as it helps in overcoming the numerous potholes, speed bumps, unbelievably deep gutters so prevalent in Brazilian cities.

This is the kind of car Brazilians can expect to see over the course of the next couple of years. Cars that been selling for more than a while and will continue to do so, aided by the cosmetic touches Fiat is so good at. Real new cars? You’ll have to wait until 2016.

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Dispatches Do Brasil: FCA’s Plans For Latin America http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/dispatches-do-brasil-fcas-plans-for-latin-america/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/dispatches-do-brasil-fcas-plans-for-latin-america/#comments Fri, 09 May 2014 16:40:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=818626 After all was said and done and the dust settled on FCA’s presentation of future plans to investors a couple of days ago, many of us were still left wondering – what does FCA really have in store for Brazil? We all know what the “F” in FCA stands for and there’s a reason why […]

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After all was said and done and the dust settled on FCA’s presentation of future plans to investors a couple of days ago, many of us were still left wondering – what does FCA really have in store for Brazil? We all know what the “F” in FCA stands for and there’s a reason why it comes before the “C”. Part of that is the success Fiat has enjoyed in Brazil – which was heavily emphasized in the Fiat brand presentation. Brazil is a good indicator for Fiat’s plans in the Latin American market, and the rest of the globe.

This year, Fiat is doing well, even though Brazil is in a down market this year (Fiat is down about 5 percent). 2013 saw Fiat sell 785,000 cars – impressive given that its domestic production capacity is 800,000 units. Fiat will add another 400,000 units of capacity over the next few years, betting heavily on Brazil as a major engine of growth.

So what did FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne say about Brazil? No new nothing for brasileiros until 2016, when the new factory will kick off production of the new “City” car directly aimed at Volkswagen’s up!. More than likely, it will sport a 900cc two-cylinder engine that can add forced induction, producing 70 to 130 hp while keeping consumption (and emissions) to a minimum.

Besides that, baby Jeeps and Jeeps labeled as Fiat products will also come out of that new factory (4 new models, initially).These new CUVs will sit directly in the meat of the fastest growing segment in the world. Aside from giving Fiat more product, it’s an important step for the internationalization of the Jeep brand.

At the old factory in Betim, Minas Gerais, Fiat will phase out the venerable 178 series of cars, while the new Palio and Grand Siena line will sit on top a version of the platform underpinning the current Brazilian Punto. The new Uno that sits on the 326 platform, an evolution of the old 178, will move up to hybridized version of  326, and the Punto’s platform. The Strada pickup will survive, but its final form is unknown.

As the new European Punto will sit on the same platform as the future 500, Fiat Brazil is at a loss as to what to do with the Linea and Idea. That means that the Punto is, as we say in Portuguese, subiu no telhado (about to jump of the roof). The Viaggio and Ottimo (Fiat’s version of the Dart) also have unclear futures in Brazil. Both were supposed to arrive, but they have been delayed indefinitely.

Part of the reason is that, Fiat Brazil is now a smaller player in the global FCA realm, and must now compete with Chrysler for money. The slowdown of Fiat’s factory expansions in Brazil is evidence of this. However, the contracting car market does help Fiat. As they are operating at among the highest capacities in Brazil, the no launch of new cars is, at the moment, a welcome and lucky break. The current models are very competitive and are doing well in the market. Any new cars might just push the limits of Fiat’s capacity in South America too far.

The Uno, which is the cheapest car in Brazil has just got some “awesome” decorative fluff-ware, enough to keep interest, in the media and public, and keep the old factory chugging along until 2016. Then,Fiat will be ready for action and hungry to get the 1 million plus sales they need down here in order to prove signore Marchionne is right, and that FCA not only has a future, but a bright one at that

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Analysis: The Definitive Guide To The Fiat Chrysler 5-Year Plan http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/analysis-the-definitive-guide-to-the-fiat-chrysler-5-year-plan/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/analysis-the-definitive-guide-to-the-fiat-chrysler-5-year-plan/#comments Tue, 06 May 2014 22:34:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=816249 Wednesday marks the 16th anniversary of the Daimler-Chrysler merger. One day prior to this milestone, Fiat Chrysler has unveiled their business plan for the next 5 years. While the industry norm is to keep future product plans, brand strategies and sales targets as a closely guarded secret, FCA took the unusual step of making it […]

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Wednesday marks the 16th anniversary of the Daimler-Chrysler merger. One day prior to this milestone, Fiat Chrysler has unveiled their business plan for the next 5 years. While the industry norm is to keep future product plans, brand strategies and sales targets as a closely guarded secret, FCA took the unusual step of making it all public, with FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne headlining the event (billed as a conference for investors) at an event in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Each of FCA’s brands and subsidiaries was given the chance to present their strategy through 2018, with healthy helpings of new vehicles, future technology and corporate strategy being revealed.

ChryslerCurrently, the Chrysler brand is arguably the weakest in FCA’s portfolio, with just three offerings – the D-segment Chrysler 200, the E-segment Chrysler 300 and the Town and Country minivan. Combined, those account for just 350,000 units globally, a tiny number in the context of a 16 or 17 million unit market in the United States alone. As part of its growth plan, Chrysler will shift away from being a pseudo-premium brand to a mainstream line, aiming to compete with brands like Ford, Hyundai, Chevrolet, Toyota and Honda. The brand will add a new compact sedan, and two new crossovers, as well as hybrid capability on the larger CUV and the Town & Country minivan. Chrysler is aiming to increase sales to 800,000 units globally by 2018, equal to its best years ever in America, in the middle of the last decade – but Chrysler will be relying on stronger global sales to reach this number.

  • The Chrysler 100 sedan will debut in 2016, ostensibly as a sister car to the Dodge Dart. While details were not revealed, we can expect both the 1.4L Turbo 4-cylinder engine, as well as the 2.4L 4-cylinder paired to a 9-speed automatic. Although the latter combination was promised for the Dart long ago, it has failed to materialize. The Dart is scheduled for a 2016 refresh, and the 2.4L/9-speed could appear at that time.
  • The Chrysler 300 will receive a refresh later this year, while the 200 will get one in 2017.
  • A larger crossover, sized to compete with the Toyota Highlander and Chevrolet Traverse, launches in 2017. This will likely share a platform with the Chrysler Town & Country minivan, due to its footprint and its plug-in hybrid capability.
  • A mid-size crossover, comparable to the Hyundai Santa Fe or Ford Edge, bows in 2018. This will likely share the CUSW underpinnings of the Chrysler 200 and Jeep Cherokee.
  • The Chrysler Town & Country will be the sole minivan in FCA’s portfolio, bowing in 2016. It will be available as a plug-in hybrid to help meet regulatory requirements for ZEVs.

Dodge: In the “internal turf war” for mainstream volume offerings, Dodge is the clear loser. The upshot for enthusiasts is that Dodge will transition to being a more emotional and performance oriented brand, while still retaining its price point as a mainstream value brand. As part of Chrysler’s consolidation and push for “brand purity”, the Grand Caravan and Avenger will disappear, with the former departing in 2016. Dodge sales are expected to stay flat, with 600,000 units targeted in 2018 – Dodge sold roughly 596,000 units in 2013, and is expected to see lower volumes in the intermittent years.

  • A new B-segment Dodge will debut in 2018, offering both sedan and hatchback bodystyles, as well as undisclosed turbocharged engines. Previous rumors have suggested that a small Dodge would carry the Hornet name.
  • The Dart will soldier on until 2016, with FCA planning to market the car with aggressive leases and better content. 2016 will bring cosmetic changes as well as improvements to the driving dynamics and powertrains. A Dart SRT, with a high-performance turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive, will bow at the end of 2016.
  • A replacement for the Dodge Journey – including an SRT version – will bow in mid-2016.
  • All-new versions of the Dodge Charger and Challenger will bow in 2018 (alongside a new Chrysler 300), with SRT versions arriving at the end of 2018.
  • The Dodge Durango will continue through 2018, though it may disappear to make room for a three-row Jeep Grand Wagoneer.
  • The SRT Viper will become a Dodge again, and carry on through 2018.

FerrariFCA CEO Sergio Marchionne presented Ferrari’s outline, which was light on product plans. Ferrari will cap production at 7,000 units per year, introducing one new model every year. There are provisions to increase capacity to 10,000 units annually, and each model will be on a four year cycle, with updated variants (think 458 Speciale) launched as well. While Marchionne stressed that “Ferrari is not for sale”.

With a volume of 10,000 units, EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) is estimated to be around $1 billion for Ferrari alone, thanks to its three custom car lines (which presumably generates huge margins) and the extremely lucrative revenue stream built into the brand – its merchandising and licensing business. Ferrari licenses its brand to everything from laptops to athletic apparel to model cars, and these are frequently sold as luxury goods. By comparison, Marchionne noted that conventional luxury good companies are often valued at 9x-12x EBITDA – and his presentation made explicit mention of Ferrari’s target of 15 percent gross margin, and an apparent valuation of between 3.3 and 5.4 billion euros.

FiatFiat’s presentation was the most confusing, with the brand eschewing the unidirectional approach taken by the other marques in FCA’s portfolio. A more apt-description is that Fiat is the exact opposite of “One Ford”, with the brand offering distinct product for NAFTA, Latin America, Europe and Asia.

  • Fiat will dump the Suzuki SX4-based Sedici (replaced by the Fiat 500L) and the C-segment Fiat Bravo (replaced by the Fiat 500/Panda).
  • Future product will straddle the line between functional, mainstream transportation with a “cool” bent (mostly in Europe and other developed world markets) and a novel, European brand (NAFTA). This dichotomy was presented in the form of the Fiat 124 and 124 Sport (a family car and a sports car) and the smaller Uno being sold alongside the dramatic, performance oriented Fiat Coupe of the mid-1990s.
  • In Brazil and Latin America, Fiat will shed many of its legacy nameplates, including the Palio, Siena and Linea. They will be replaced with a new A-segment car, a new Uno, a Punto/Palio replacement, a new Grand Siena, a new compact CUV and a new pickup, as well as the Strada small pickup.
  • Fiat will bring the Renegade-based 500X crossover to North America, as well as a “Speciality” product, presumed to be a Fiat/Abarth branded sports car, based off the next Mazda MX-5.

JeepJeep is one of FCA’s profit centers, and the SUV brand will undergo a major re-orientation from a NAFTA-centric maker of rough-and-ready SUVs to a global brand composed of both crossovers and traditional off-road vehicles. Jeep will transofrm from a brand of 800,000 American-made vehicles to one with manufacturing facilities in the USA, Brazil, India, China and the EU, with sales projections of 1.9 million units globally. Jeep will gain 9 new plants in 5 new countries .

  • Jeep will introduce a new replacement for the Compass and Patriot in 2016, consolidated under one nameplate.
  • The Grand Wagoneer will return in 2018 as a three-row vehicle, potentially replacing the Dodge Durango.
  • A new Wrangler and Grand Cherokee will bow in 2017.

MaseratiAlong with Alfa Romeo, Maserati will be positioned as a premium performance brand, with new product offerings. Although the Levante SUV is still on, more details were released about the Alfieri Coupe and Convertible. Maserati is aiming to increase sales from 15,000 to 75,000 units.

  • The Alfieri will offer turbocharged V6 (410, 450 and 520 horsepower), and all-wheel drive. Rear drive will be available only on the lower output V6 model.
  • The Levante will offer 350 and 425 horsepower V6 engines and a 560 horsepower V8 as well as a range of diesels.

Alfa Romeo: After nearly a decade of broken promises, we have yet another Alfa Romeo product plant that is being presented as the savoir of this once hallowed brand. Alfa Romeo’s narrative has always been grander than its financial success, but things are particularly dismal, with sales below 200,000 units and a lineup of just two small, front-drive hatchbacks and a low volume sports car.

As part of Alfa’s latest revival attempt, the brand has been transformed into what it dubs a “skunk works”, akin to what Chrysler wanted to do with SRT – create an independent workshop that is conducive to experimentation and creativity, free from bureaucracy and rigid corporate processes. Alfa’s top bosses are two Ferrari engineers, with a staff of 200 hand-picked individuals, which FCA hopes to expand to 600 by 2015.

  • Alfa is aiming to launch 8 new products by 2018, with a range of 4 and 6-cylinder gasoline and diesel engines. Alfas will be exclusively rear or all-wheel drive.
  • The first new vehicle, a mid-size sedan, will bow in 2015. From there, a full-size sedan, two CUVs and a new “speciality” car will debut by 2018.
  • The Mito and Giulietta compacts will die.
  • FCA is aiming for 400,000 units by 2018, including 150,000 units in the United States.

RamAs one of FCA’s other big profit centers, Ram is a key brand for the company, but exists largely in the NAFTA region. The half-ton trucks will see a refresh in 2015, along with a redesign in 2017, with heavy-duty trucks getting freshened in alternate years. Aluminum will likely not be a part of the new trucks, as Ram feels that the diesel half-ton truck is competitive against Ford’s aluminum RAM, and has been downplaying the durability and cost-effectiveness of the aluminum F-150. On the commercial vehicle front, a small Ram ProMaster City, based on the Fiat Doblo, bows this year.

Powertrains and Architectures:

While auto makers like Volkswagen, Toyota and Nissan are moving to radical solutions for platform consolidation, FCA’s plan showed little evidence of any move to substantially combine existing product architectures. Currently, FCA has 18 vehicle architectures, with the top 4 platforms accounting for just under half of total volume, 12 architectures representing 95 percent of volume. By 2018, this number will shrink to just 15 architectures, with the top for accounting for 70 percent of volume, and 9 architectures accounting for 95 percent of volume.

Proportionally, this is not much of a reduction, and it lags far behind Volkswagen’s strategy of just 4 modular “kits”. FCA also lacks the level of scale and volume that VW has, which would make it easier to absorb the costs and inefficiencies that come with having so many different architectures. FCA discussed its goals of bringing down costs via better purchasing practices, more shared components (like lighting, HVAC systems and interior pieces), but their plan for increasing efficiencies via shared architectures was markedly less sophisticated than much of the competition. Given the importance of achieving significant economies of scale in the future (a topic that Sergio Marchionne frequently expounds on), it was surprising to see FCA unveil a plan that is already behind the times relative to the larger OEMs that it must compete with.

On the powertrain front, FCA is downplaying the importance of fuel cell and EV powertrains, introducing EVs for regulatory compliance in the USA. Plug-in hybrids will trickle into the lineup in future, as will mild-hybrid technology like start-stop systems and Belt Starter Generators. FCA dismissed fuel cells as a non-viable alternative, and said that CNG and diesel will play a role in world markets more than in NAFTA. FCA will continue to buy emissions credits in the interim.

FinanceWhile much of the presentation material was focused on global issues, two things stood out.

  • FCA will continue to use Santander as its captive arm, and will not start a new one.
  • The overall tone regarding subprime financing was bullish, with executives dismissive suggestions of any systemic issues.

Sales and Global Markets: Separate presentations were conducted for Asia, Latin America, Europe and NAFTA regions.

  • In the NAFTA region, FCA sold 2.1 million units in 2013, and is projecting a steady increase in the U.S. SAAR, rising to 17 million units by 2018.  By that time, FCA is looking to sell another 1 million units in the NAFTA zone and increase exports by 33 percent to 380,000 units. However, no capacity increases were discussed for NAFTA, and Marchionne commented on his distaste for two-tier wages in the UAW, suggesting that profit sharing was an option in the future. Difficulties negotiating with organized labor could spell trouble for FCA’s plans.
  • In Europe, FCA has seen sales decline by over half since 2010, while capacity utilization has declined from over 100 percent to around 67 percent – a dangerously low level for a volume auto maker. Fiat’s home market of Italy was among the hardest hit, and Europe’s 13.8 million vehicle market in 2013 is at its lowest levels since 2007. FCA now has to reposition Fiat not just as an Italian mainstream brand, but one that fits the current paradigm where “cool” budget brands like Dacia and premium brands like Audi are stealing market share with their offerings that encroach on the turf of volume vehicles. Higher margin brands like Jeep, Alfa Romeo and certain Fiat products (like the 500) are their weapons of choice, as FCA aims for an increase from 1.1 million in 2013 to 1.5 million units by 2018.
  • In Latin America, FCA is well established in Brazil and Argentina, with multiple assembly plants in the two countries running at over 100 percent capacity. FCA expects the market to grow from 5.9 million units this year to 6.9 million units in 2018, with most of that growth coming from Brazil, a country where Fiat is the closest thing to a national brand. Jeep is also expected to be a strong player, with Brazilian production of the Renegade expected to start in 2015. FCA is planning to increase sales from 900,000 units this year to 1.3 million units in 2018. Fiat is expected to account for 1.1 million units, Jeep for 200,000 units and other brands making up the remainder.
  • Asia, India, Australia and other Pacific markets are also being given increasing attention by FCA, with China remaining the dominant market at 28 million units. FCA expects India to overtake Japan as its second largest market by 2018, with 5 million units annually. While FCA projects an increase from 200,000 units in 2013 to 1.1 million units by 2018, on the back of strong sales of Jeep crossovers in India and China, as well as a wide new range of Fiat product. The only question is – how will they pay for all this new product?

Conclusion:

FCA’s day-long meeting was an anomaly in the industry, providing car enthusiasts with a detailed look at future product offerings, and intense discussions of FCA’s various brands and their respective visions. No other OEM is so candid with their upcoming debuts, and FCA deserves praise for setting a positive example for other OEMs.

But dig a little deeper, and many important questions remain answered.

  • FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne is one of the biggest advocates for the necessity of economics of scale via increasing volumes, yet his plan for reducing the number of architectures looks amateur compared to the extremely aggressive plans laid out by archrival Volkswagen. While VWs global volume was 9.7 million units in 2013, it is paring down its architectures to just 4. Meanwhile, FCA, which sold 1.5 million units globally in 2013, will have 15 architectures and volumes of 5.7 million units worldwide. Compared to VW, Nissan, Toyota and even General Motors (which has a sophisticated set of architectures for its global products), FCA’s strategy seems bloated, if not obsolete, from Day 1.
  • FCA is all-in on the internal combustion engine, and is only just dipping its toe into the water of plug-in vehicles, with a plug-in hybrid. EVs are solely produced to appease regulators, and fuel cell vehicles are not in the cards. Even long-time advocates of the internal combustion engine have some kind of ZEV program (such as Hyundai, which has a fuel-cell program). This is a risky gambit, with significant upside and downside potential. Many EV programs aren’t going as well as OEMs had hoped, but FCA could be left in the dust in terms of R&D.
  •  FCA is dangerously reliant on both Jeep and RAM for their profits. A 2008-like combination of spiking gas prices and a downturn in the economy (especially housing starts, which are a key driver of pickup sales) could leave FCA exposed to both falling demand for gas-guzzling trucks and have a severe impact on the high numbers of FCA vehicles financed via subprime rates. These less credit-worthy borrowers would likely be the first to default on their payments, and a mass repossession of FCA vehicles could be another blow at an inopportune time.
  • There has been no mention of how the substantial increase in NAFTA sales will come without any additional NAFTA capacity (something Sergio Marchionne has previously sworn off). Jeeps imported from Italy and Brazil (and even China) could be an option, but booming sales of Ram trucks couldn’t be built anywhere else. Marchionne’s comments about his distaste for two-tier wages could also spell trouble for his hourly workforce when it’s time to negotiate their contracts in 2016.
  • Who is financing all of the(mostly Fiat) new product earmarked for Asia? And why all this talk of Ferrari’s value if the company is not for sale?
  • Is Alfa really going to sell 150,000 units (volumes comparable to Audi) in America? Even the most dewey-eyed Alfa diehards in the industry find that to be a bit of a stretch.

Marchionne and FCA have been known to say one thing and then completely change direction, miss deadlines and dodge questions about missing deliverables (the 9-speed Dart is the automotive world’s Jimmy Hoffa). But they’ve also presented an admirable turnaround for a once-ailing car maker, even when the rest of the world was prepared to write them off. Yes, one may argue that Marchionne and Fiat bought Chrysler’s assets for a song, and that the road has at times been rocky. But a decade ago, plans for Jeep’s global expansion, Ram’s possible conquest of GM trucks and a thriving line of Chrysler and Dodge products would have been the stuff of only the most zealous Mopar fan. It’s now a very real possibility.

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FCA Unveils 5-Year Plan On Tuesday http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/fca-unveils-5-year-plan-on-tuesday/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/fca-unveils-5-year-plan-on-tuesday/#comments Mon, 05 May 2014 15:22:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=815570   Today is Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican holiday used as an excuse by Americans to drink margaritas and eat bad Tex-Mex. But tomorrow, Fiat Chrysler will unveil their next five-year plan, which should clarify the many contradictory product plans being touted by both FCA execs and the media. Among the areas expected to be […]

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neverending2

 

Today is Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican holiday used as an excuse by Americans to drink margaritas and eat bad Tex-Mex. But tomorrow, Fiat Chrysler will unveil their next five-year plan, which should clarify the many contradictory product plans being touted by both FCA execs and the media.

Among the areas expected to be clarified tomorrow:

  • Which of the two minivans will survive FCA’s nameplate consolidation. The smart money is on the Chrysler Town & Country, with the Grand Caravan’s replacement taking the form of a three-row crossover
  • Alfa Romeo’s return to the United States beyond the low volume 4C sports car
  • The future direction of the Chrysler and Dodge brands. FCA has been taking steps to eliminate overlap between the two brands (for example, redesigning the Chrysler 200 while axing its Dodge Avenger sister car), but both lack a strong identity. Chrysler is a mainstream pseudo-upscale brand, while Dodge is a mainstream pseudo-performance brand. Dodge’s customer base skews much younger, but its raison d’etre is flimsy enough that there has been talk of axing it now that the high-performance SRT brand has been spun off of it.
  • Jeep is making an aggressive push in world markets, with a view to doubling sales by 2018 to 1.5 million units.
  • Ram trucks have been a major profit center for Chrysler, but the aluminum Ford F-150 will present a real challenge to Ram’s new diesel half-ton truck.
  • Hybrids and alternative powertrains are expected to be discussed. Although Jeep and Ram have a diesel powertrain through VM Motori (a Fiat owned company) and Ram has a long relationship with Cummins, FCA lacks any sort of hybrid technology, and is lagging in the Corporate Average Fuel Economy rankings. FCA is also reliant on Jeep and Ram for much of their financial success, putting them at a further disadvantage. The only announcement regarding hybrid cars was a brief one about a next-generation hybrid minivan sometime later in the decade.

We’ll have full coverage of the event tomorrow.

 

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Fiat Adds Automatic Abarth, Young People “Don’t Drive A Manual Transmission” http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/fiat-adds-automatic-abarth-young-people-dont-drive-a-manual-transmission/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/fiat-adds-automatic-abarth-young-people-dont-drive-a-manual-transmission/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 05:39:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=788642 In a bid to boost sales of the Fiat 500 Turbo and Abarth, the two boosted versions of Fiat’s city car will get an optional automatic transmission. Automotive News is reporting that Fiat will add the two-pedal gearbox in July, when the 2015 models begin production. While Fiat sold about 36,000 500s in the USA […]

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In a bid to boost sales of the Fiat 500 Turbo and Abarth, the two boosted versions of Fiat’s city car will get an optional automatic transmission.

Automotive News is reporting that Fiat will add the two-pedal gearbox in July, when the 2015 models begin production. While Fiat sold about 36,000 500s in the USA last year, around 5370 of those were Abarths, and Fiat boss Jason Stoicevich puts a lot of the blame on its manual-only configuration.

Speaking to AN, Stoicevich was blunt in his assesment of what was holding the Abarth back, stating

Frankly, [young people] just don’t drive a manual transmission,”

According to him, the addition of the auto could add another 2700 or so units to the Abarth’s sales tally. Overall, 500 sales have been down by about 13 percent year-over-year.

EDIT: 500 Abarth sales figures updated

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Junkyard Find: 1963 Fiat 1100D http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/junkyard-find-1963-fiat-1100d/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/junkyard-find-1963-fiat-1100d/#comments Fri, 28 Mar 2014 13:00:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=782601 Old Fiats aren’t uncommon in American self-serve wrecking yards these days, but the ones you find are almost always Sport Spiders— we’ve seen this ’71, this ’71 850, this ’73, this ’75, this terrifyingly rusty ’76, this ’78, and this ’80 so far in this series— but a Fiat 1100? This is a first for […]

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04 - 1963 Fiat 1100D Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinOld Fiats aren’t uncommon in American self-serve wrecking yards these days, but the ones you find are almost always Sport Spiders— we’ve seen this ’71, this ’71 850, this ’73, this ’75, this terrifyingly rusty ’76, this ’78, and this ’80 so far in this series— but a Fiat 1100? This is a first for me.
01 - 1963 Fiat 1100D Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis is the car upon which the beloved-by-India Premier Padmini was based, and it was built until 2001.
03 - 1963 Fiat 1100D Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis 1100D is very rough and the engine is gone, although it does appear to be relatively rust-free.
07 - 1963 Fiat 1100D Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis car probably wasn’t at all out of place as a daily driver in Berkeley or San Francisco. Even today, there’s a ’58 Multipla getting daily street use in the East Bay.
09 - 1963 Fiat 1100D Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWorth restoring? Probably not. Some of the parts might live on, though.

Sadly, the Padmini taxis of Indias are being phased out.

01 - 1963 Fiat 1100D Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1963 Fiat 1100D Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1963 Fiat 1100D Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1963 Fiat 1100D Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1963 Fiat 1100D Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1963 Fiat 1100D Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1963 Fiat 1100D Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1963 Fiat 1100D Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1963 Fiat 1100D Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1963 Fiat 1100D Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1963 Fiat 1100D Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

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Dispatches do Brasil: Spite, Murder, Road Trips, Police, Dreams and Growth http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/dispatches-do-brasil-spite-murder-road-trips-police-dreams-and-growth/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/dispatches-do-brasil-spite-murder-road-trips-police-dreams-and-growth/#comments Thu, 20 Mar 2014 12:00:11 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=776281 Last time I told you of the perfect legal, societal and media storm which conspired to make me let go of the car of my dreams. This time reasons of a more personal, and very human, nature, joined up to make the Fiat Tipo a car that never was to be mine. The year was […]

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siena hl (1)

Last time I told you of the perfect legal, societal and media storm which conspired to make me let go of the car of my dreams. This time reasons of a more personal, and very human, nature, joined up to make the Fiat Tipo a car that never was to be mine.

The year was 1997 and my former wife and I were living in Brasilia, pursuing our respective dreams. We were doing well and on a family visit back in my hometown, Belo Horizonte. Lunch at my grandparents’ home provided me with a chance to get my Tipo after all. An uncle mentioned he was going to sell his 1995 Tipo. Though very happy with my plain Jane Uno, the idea of a larger, more powerful, even luxurious car was very compelling, given that my wife and I were doing well financially. In contrast to the 1.0, Uno that had manual everything and no creature comforts, the Tipo was complete, almost luxurious by 1990 Brazilian standards (1.6 engine, AC, power everything).

I negotiated a deal with my uncle. I wanted the car and his asking price was very reasonable. It was not bottom barrel, but it wasn’t the top of the range either. I believe it was about R$14,000 which would have been about US$7,000. As luck would have it, the car was in the shop for something minor, so I couldn’t take it right then and there. Due to my agenda, I would only be able to make it back to Belo Horizonte three weeks later.

Back in Brasilia, I savored the thought. I was living the dream. Everything was working as we’d planned, we were growing, and soon we’d be driving a car that would better suit our new station in life. Then, of course, it all went to naught.

About a week from our rendezvous date in which I’d hand over the money and drive back home in bliss, my Dad called. Uncle had called him and said he was reneging on the deal. Now he wanted R$16,000. I think greed got the best of him. And spite and anger got the best of me. Though the increase wasn’t too bad, my youthful spirit got the best of me. Vai chupar manga”, was the message I relayed to him. I’m pretty sure my Dad didn’t tell Uncle the second part of my reply.

siena (1)

I should have just let it go, but the seed had been planted. I was now obsessed with a new car. Looking around, I found a brand-new Fiat Siena 1.6 and nothing else, on sale in Belo Horizonte. Fiat had just launched the car and the official price was close to R$20,000. However, as this was 1997, the Asian crisis was in full swing. Brazil, though it never officially admitted it, was in a state of technical bankruptcy. That meant that after a couple of white hot years, where the new car market had doubled in size, sales had come to a standstill and soon took  a precipitous fall. That’s why I was able to negotiate the price down to R$17,500.

Negotiations were over the phone and took two days. They bought my used Uno sight unseen, trusting me on the condition of the car. The deal was closed at 6:00 PM on Friday. I got in the Uno and made my way down the 716 km road to Belo Horizonte. I got there at 2:00 AM. It was not an easy trip, as I was very tired at the end. The last 100km I stopped at every gas station to drink a Coke and gulp down a cold cup of coffee in my attempts to stay awake. Being that it was wintertime, I took advantage of the situation and cracked open the windows to use the cold wind as yet another way to keep my eyes open.

Saturday morning, I went down to the shop where they inspected my Uno and agreed that the car was as I had described and discounted the agreed upon amount from my new Siena’s price. As I was there, I talked them up and asked how I was supposed to get my new car. They had told me that the car was not in Belo Horizonte, but the car would be here early Sunday.  The shops usually claim they have an auto carrier truck to bring in the cars. Knowing something of the business, I knew this was often not the case. They confessed to me that a driver would be driving the car in. From where, I asked? Ituiutaba was the answer.

Ituiutaba? I knew it was far, though I didn’t know how far. The thought of my shiny, brand new Siena in the hands of some driver who would undoubtedly abuse it on the trip broke my heart. So, of course, I negotiated that I’d go to that city myself and drive the car home to Brasilia. Whatever, I’m young I can do it.

The best part of that Saturday was the afternoon at my grandparents. My uncle was surprised to see me there. I casually mentioned I had bought a new car. I even, ever smoothly, mentioned how the car I bought was brand new. I may even have upped the price a bit to rub it in. The look on his face was priceless. As to that Tipo, my father later told me it had taken him more than 3 months to sell it off, probably for less than what I had agreed to pay him, as the car’s reputation at the time was irremediably tarnished by the fire scandal.

Saturday night, I hopped on the bus at 10:00 PM. As I settled down for the 8 hour trip, I notice a suspicious drunk or drugged young man getting on. As I have never had much luck on bus trips, I hugged my backpack that much closer. I then dozed off only to be awakened by a high pitched screech.

A woman was yelling and the bus was doing a panic stop. The driver soon entered the passenger compartment. The woman was shouting that she had been attacked. Her attacker was the young man that earlier set off my internal alarms. The driver diffused the situation as best he could and calmed the woman down enough by taking the assailant into his compartment and after a half hour of this drama, off we were again. A short time later, the driver stopped again, this time at a roadside police station.

Almost 2 hours later we were off again, minus the rogue. The police had informed us before we parted that that young man was a fugitive. He was a drug dealer, rapist, and murderer.  Praying for more protection, I must have dozed off again as soon enough we were in Ituiutaba.

When I arrived, I jumped in a taxi, off to the dealer, and got my car from the dealer’s watchman. After another 500 km drive, I’d be home, in Brasilia. As excited as I was to be in my beautiful, powerful, 1.6 Fiat Siena (92hp, 10 more than the Tipo!), a nagging thought would not leave my mind. In Brazil, between purchase and the putting on of license plates, there is a “grace period”. However, this legal permission to driving without license plates extends only to driving inside state lines. To cross boundaries, permission from the each state’s transportation authority was necessary. I would be crossing 3 state lines that day.

For the moment though, I was relishing my car. The smell of a new car is, in my mind, second only to a newborn baby. This was my first sedan. A grown up car for me, my first at 26 years of age. To me it was beautiful and though it had nothing else, it did have that 1.6 engine. Yes!

Off we go. In Minas Gerais State, no problem. Crossed over into Goiás state. No police. I consoled myself saying, this is just a regular Sunday, no holiday, there’ll be no police. I concentrated on breaking the car in. Tried to keep it at a steady 110-120 km/h clip. Constant speed was the key to a successful beak in, I was told.

A little more than halfway to Brasilia, I saw them, the police. They saw me too and, of course, waved me to stop. Mentally reciting the lines I had practiced so many times, I prepared for the worst. There I was, in the middle of nowhere, with no documentation, but a bill of sales, trying to imagine a way to talk my way out of trouble. I stopped, the two cops came. Interestingly, the coppers were smiling. I was too worried to notice at first, but I kept my cool. I hold my tongue, let them take the first step.

“Good afternoon!”, I reply the same. The smiles linger, “hey, look sir, is that the new Siena?”. Yes, yes it is I reply. “Can we check it out?”, they ask. “Of course, of course!”, I almost cry. They check the car out, get in it, examine the huge trunk, congratulate me on my purchase and wish me a safe trip, “have a good trip, sir.” All I can do is pray an Our Father and a Hail Mary and thank my lucky stars.

Looking back, with the experience I have now, I should have just paid off my uncle. I would have gotten a better, more comfortable car for less money. Between the heat of youth and the relative calm of my middle age, I see the folly of what I did. I spent more, for a lesser car. However, if I had done that, I would not have been able to tell the story I am relating to you today. Putting a price on experience is tough, if not impossible.

And so is realizing that the Tipo will always be the car that slipped through my grasp.

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Dispatches do Brasil: Law, Society, Media and Fires. Consumers Are Just Dust in the Wind http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/dispatches-do-brasil-law-society-media-and-fires-consumers-are-just-dust-in-the-wind/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/dispatches-do-brasil-law-society-media-and-fires-consumers-are-just-dust-in-the-wind/#comments Wed, 19 Mar 2014 19:58:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=776257 The year was 1995. The country: Brazil. A new Constitution had been proclaimed a few years before, and our fledgling democracy had survived a presidential impeachment. Society was growing up and demanding new, more transparent relations with big business. The car market was more open than it had been since the 1950′s,  and due to […]

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tipo-fire

The year was 1995. The country: Brazil. A new Constitution had been proclaimed a few years before, and our fledgling democracy had survived a presidential impeachment. Society was growing up and demanding new, more transparent relations with big business. The car market was more open than it had been since the 1950′s,  and due to the deluge of imported cars, that brief window would soon close. I was there, in the eye of a hurricane, looking to buy my very first car with my own money. All those factors made up the perfect storm, which conspired to pull me away from the car of my dreams.

That car was the Fiat Tipo. Due to the economic shock tactics of the now-impeached President, Fiat imported it to Brazil by the boatload and it even became the sales leader for a month or two in 1995, the only time an import has ever topped the charts in Brazil. Offering great looks, lots of space, generous features list, a very sporty and comfortable ride, and, perhaps more importantly, a price that undercut the competition, the Tipo was the hottest car at the time. It had everything one could want, and seemed destined to become the most sold car that year and the foreseeable future. Then, disaster struck. Tipos were self-immolating at alarming rates, all over Brazil.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Taking advantage of the new possibilities the Constitution and a brand-new Code of Consumers’ Protection and Defensean association of owners was created (AVITIPO – Association of Tipo Victims). The mainstream media took it up with a vengance. As it was, a new type of collective lawsuit demanding reparations of civil responsibilities, made possible by the Constitution and the new Code, was to be tested. Anyone who had a Tipo that had caught fire, irrespective of joining the association, would be entitled to moral and material damage from Fiat, if the Italian company was found guilty.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Fanning the flames of the growing fire, Fiat fought it. They had not perceived the Brazilian world they were working in had changed as evidenced by the new Constitutional and Consumer Code dispositions. They did not anticipate that the media would make this the litmus test of the new Brazil that had come out of a painful process of re-establishing liberal democracy. At first, they dragged their feet. They claimed there was no problem with the car. After a couple of months, with the pressure mounting and sales plummeting, they finally acknowledged some responsibility. However, Fiat could not have been more inept. They blamed consumers, saying that the fires were the result of the habit of some consumers of washing their engines with kerosene, which would affect the cardboard lining of the “hot air convergent tube”.

Click here to view the embedded video.

That did it. Societal fire around the case reached feverish levels. AVITIPO proved in the courts and, perhaps more importantly, in the court of public opinion, that Fiat had given the wrong solution to the problem. Association pundits proved that the fires were the result of a hydraulic power steering hose not coping with the pressure in the system when the wheel was at full lock in situatiosn like maneuvering into a tight parking spot. In this situation, a hose would come loose, and fluid would drip into the engine compartment, eventually reaching the beginning of the exhaust system under the engine and, voilà, a fire would ignite.

Brazilian consumers watched the drama in awe and disgust. Awe that consumers’ rights were effectively being imposed on unwilling big business and that the new Constitution had effectively given them new rights and powers against even the biggest corporations. They were also disgusted that such a big company could have been so incompetent as to not find the problem and so resistant to the new mores.

Fiat eventually recanted and recalled the cars to change the defective hose. It lost in the courts too, though they took the fight all the way to the Supreme Court. Consumers patted themselves on the back, as did the press, which delighted in its new role of the knight in shining armor for consumers. New legislation was put in place making the mandated recalls easier. Some companies, aware of the public relations fiasco, did indeed become more transparent and would not fight consumers as harshly.

Me? I never got the Tipo. Afraid of the fires, unsure as to what to do, in the middle of the howling winds of this perfect storm, I bought another kind of Fiat, an Uno, and was very happy with it. The whole situation made me realize how small we are in the whole process and how we go back and forth, mere pawns in the big money game.

I lost an opportunity to get the Tipo (a new situation would present itself a couple of years later) and regretted it. In the end, the solution was found, roughly 100 cars burned and owners were compensated. In its 4 year Brazilian career, Fiat sold more than 180,000 imported Tipos. Around 150,000 in its first two years. After the start of the melée, the last two years saw only 30,000 find their way into consumers’ hands.

In 1997, the Tipo went out with a whimper. I wince when I think of the car that got away from me.

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