Serbia cranks up Fiat 500L output
EDITOR'S NOTE: The seven-seat version of the Fiat 500, the 500XL, will be sold in Europe. The previous version of this story misstated where the model would be sold.
KOPAONIK, Serbia (Reuters) -- The Serbian unit of Fiat plans to produce between 110,000 and 160,000 of its new 500L family of compact cars for Europe and the United States this year, a key boost for Serbian exports, the head of the factory said.
Serbia expects a 25 percent rise in the value of its exports this year to around 11 billion euros ($14 billion) with the automotive industry accounting for about 20 percent of the total including production from the Fiat plant in the central city of Kragujevac.
The 1 billion-euro ($1.3 billion) joint venture project which was hatched by the government in Belgrade and Fiat in 2008 is 67 percent owned by Fiat and 33 percent by Serbia.
"Due to the crisis of the international car market we are in the production range of 110,000 to 160,000 units," Antonio Ferrara, chief executive of Serbia's Fiat plant, told reporters Wednesday on the sidelines of a three-day national business conference being held in the southwestern ski resort of Kopaonik.
The Serbian factory last year produced about 30,000 500L compacts after manufacturing started in July. Ferrara said the plant has increased its output rate since January with staff working some overtime.
"We are producing a little bit more than planned ... so if the trend remains over the next two or three months we will increase the production steadily, not through overtime, but through hiring [more workers]," Ferrara said.
The company earlier announced it will start production of an off-road model, the 500L Trekking, as well as a right-hand-drive version for buyers in the UK.
Production of another variant, the 500XL seven-seat model is expected to start in the second part of the year.
Meanwhile any plans to export 500Ls to Russia remain uncertain due to high custom duties there. Although Serbia has a free-trade agreement with Russia it excludes cars and on Wednesday Serbia's Finance Minister Mladjan Dinkic said that a high-ranking delegation will travel to Moscow to try to resolve the issue.