Fiat to launch Viaggio in China
Compact sedan crucial to company's plan to grow outside of Europe
TURIN – Fiat will debut the Viaggio compact sedan at the Beijing auto show next month and start producing the car in China in July, ahead of a market launch expected before the end of the year.
The first model from Fiat's joint venture with Guangzhou Automobile Group is crucial to the Italian automaker's plan to grow beyond Europe, where car sales are expected to decline for the fifth consecutive year. Fiat aims to boost its sales in China to 300,000 by 2014 from fewer than 1,500 last year.
Thus far, Fiat has been unsuccessful at gaining a foothold in the world's largest auto market, which is expected to grow another 8 percent in 2012 after exceeding 13 million passenger-car sales last year. No Fiat models have been produced in China since the automaker's joint venture with Nanjing Automotive failed in 2007.
The Viaggio (the Italian word for journey) is a reworked version of the Dodge Dart, which is based on the Alfa Romeo Giulietta.
The Viaggio is slightly longer than the 4670mm Dart and fits in between the Ford Focus sedan sold in central and eastern Europe, Russia and China and the Mondeo mid-sized sedan. The Viaggio has a different front end from the Dart and a trunk while the Dart is fastback with a more rounded tail. The two vehicles share doors and most of their interior.
Fiat S.p.A., which owns Alfa and has a 58.5 percent stake in Dodge parent Chrysler Group, will begin production of the Dart next month at its U.S. plant in Belvidere, Illinois.
The Viaggio will be made at Fiat and Guangzhou Auto's new factory in the Changsha Economic Zone in Hunan province. The partners plan an initial annual capacity of 140,000 vehicles. That number is expected to rise quickly to 250,000.
In China, the Viaggio will be powered by locally built normally aspirated and turbocharged versions of Fiat's 1.4-liter gasoline engine. Fiat and Guangzhou's joint venture powertrain plant, which is also in the Changsha Economic Zone, is forecast to have an initial volume of 220,000 engines a year.
Fiat also plans to launch a hatchback version of the Viaggio in China in 2013. That car could be exported to Europe to replace the slow-selling Bravo compact hatchback, company sources told Automotive News Europe.
Another try in China
Fiat and Guangzhou Auto plan to invest 5 billion yuan (about 594 million euros) in their 50-50 joint venture. Fiat hopes this partnership goes better than its last two. In December 2007, Fiat sold its share in its money-losing joint venture with Nanjing Automotive to China's Shanghai Automotive.
Fiat tried to form a partnership with Chery Automotive in 2007, but that deal also collapsed.
Currently, Fiat's few China sales come from models imported from Italy, such as the Bravo, Linea and Punto, and Mexico, such as the 500 and Freemont, which are built by Chrysler.
You can reach Luca Ciferri at firstname.lastname@example.org.