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Fiat Chrysler Automobiles: Ready for the next step

Date: 04 April 2016   |   Author:

The Fiat group products that arrived last year were only
the entrée ahead of an appetising main course of business-oriented new models, says fleet and remarketing director Francis Bleasdale. Paul Barker reports

A revision to Fiat's iconic 500 city car joined the compact crossovers of the new Fiat 500X and Jeep's Renegade in making up Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' major product activity in 2015.

But there's plenty more coming this year as the firm - which in addition to Fiat and Jeep comprises Alfa Romeo, Abarth and the light commercial vehicle brand Fiat Professional - looks to step up its corporate sales activity.

"It's been extremely busy with the launch of 500X and Renegade, [plus] we've moved 12 months down the line in getting the team we want - the team there to drive growth," the company's fleet and remarketing director Francis Bleasdale tells BusinessCar.

"In 2015 we were slightly ahead - the fleet market was 8% up and FCA was up 23%, so it was a very successful year, a very busy year with lots of activity around the launch of new products," he adds. "And this year there will be even more [see 'FCA Product Arrivals in 2016', right].

The Fiat 500, revised last autumn, returned to its winning ways in the 2016 BusinessCar Awards, regaining the City Car of the Year prize it held from 2009 to 2012. "There were a lot of changes under the skin, really significant enhancements of spec and lots of technology," says Fiat's fleet boss. "As with all icons, it doesn't need radical changes - it had a polish stylistically and with technology to move it up there with what you would expect from a class leader."

Bleasdale says that despite the vehicle's diminutive dimensions, fleet interest comes from a variety of areas, across company car, public sector and salary sacrifice: "It isn't going to one particular area - we do a bit of rental and bodyshop, though it's not the biggest volume, and in every channel it does well."

The return to the core fleet lower medium sector is Fiat's big news this year with the resurrection of the Tipo name. The car, unveiled earlier this month, puts the company back into the "hothouse of the fleet industry", according to Bleasdale, and should help the entire line-up.

"It's a competitive segment, and we are not naive to that. We are going up against some good product in the Focus, Astra and Golf, plus other new entrants in Hyundai and Kia, and I see the Tipo as a product directly competing against those new entrants," he says. "I'm not closing the possibility of selling big volumes of the Tipo in one go, but it gives us a really strong range with the 500 and 500X; a more conventional medium offering is really exciting."

He says the new model will help get Fiat onto more policy lists, which should bring the likes of the 500, 500X and mini-MPV 500L along too: "It helps us have a more connected conversation with fleet operators by having a range more aligned with drivers."

Coming late in 2016 is the car that the Italian brand is most excited about, with the new Alfa Romeo Giulia entering the upper medium marketplace. "There is a real buzz about the Giulia. It's just tremendously exciting for us to have Alfa product," says Bleasdale. "It will be a genuine candidate for user-choosers; it can't come soon enough."

The four-engine line-up consists of 150hp and 180hp 2.0-litre diesels, as well as a 200hp petrol and a range-topping 510hp 2.9-litre bi-turbo petrol. Also adding some glamour to the group's line-up is the Mazda MX-5-based two-seat roadster called 124 Spider, coming this autumn.

But the important news for the Fiat group this year isn't all at the glamorous end, with a huge 2016 for the light commercial vehicle arm Fiat Professional. As well as the new Mitsubishi L200-based Fullback pick-up, the brand is launching new Scudo medium van and Fiorino small van models.

"These are really important products," comments Bleasdale. "The Scudo is in the heartland of medium vans - we have a strong range with Doblo and Ducato, and Scudo slots in between them."

He says Fiat's debut in the pick-up sector will help bridge the gap between cars and commercials, with the SME marketplace a particular target. "There is still a significant market for practical business vehicles with off-road capabilities in the likes of the building sector," he says. "It's a very versatile business tool."
As well as new product, Bleasdale is building the group's reputation in the industry.

"I think it's still very much a work in progress. It's about being credible, and delivering in fleet is not the work of one or two years," he says. "It's a 10-year project, but it's not something we have a choice in - we have no other choice but to be growing and to be credible in the fleet marketplace.

"We have demonstrated that we can do large fleet deals with Fiat Professional - Royal Mail, National Rail, BT etc. - now we need to demonstrate that on the car side, which is where the Tipo and Giulia are important," he continues.

"We have to make sure we launch products in the right way - create a fleet proposition that is compelling for customers and people considering buying through us - and if we get that right then I'm sure we will get the growth we are looking for."

FCA product arrivals in 2016

Alfa Romeo Giulia Autumn
Fiat 124 Spider Autumn
Fiat Tipo Autumn
Fiat Professional Fullback June
Fiat Professional Fiorino June
Fiat Professional Talento September