FIAT WILL price its new Seicento mini aggressively and target a broader customer base.
In Italy, prices will stay about the same as the Cinquecento that it replaces. A clutchless transmission version similar to the Renault Twingo Easy will be offered for the same price as an equivalent five-speed manual.
Sales started in Italy in late March. The Seicento will be introduced in most other European markets in April.
Platform, suspensions and engines are carried over from the Cinquecento. But the Seicento has new body panels and a new interior, both designed by Fiat Auto's styling center. The bumpers are more rounded. A thicker tailgate increases the length by 90mm to 3319mm.
The Seicento is available with a passenger airbag, ABS and electric power steering. Starting in September the Citymatic clutchless transmission, supplied by Valeo, will be offered on 899cc versions. Only the driver's airbag and air conditioning were available as options on the Cinquecento.
'The Cinquecento was mostly aimed at women and young people,' said Jean-Pierre Vaillant, general manager of Fiat France. 'We want to broaden the customer base, that is why we are offering more options. The customer wants as much equipment in a mini as in a supermini.'
In Italy, the entry-level S version is priced at L14.75 million ($8,195), 1.4 percent more than its Cinquecento equivalent. The Sporting version is up 0.5 percent to L17.25 million ($9,580). The 899cc SX version with electric front windows, central locking and five-speed manual transmission is unchanged at L15.8 million ($8,780). A Citymatic version of the SX is the same price.
Renault's Twingo Easy in France sells for FF2,900 ($475) more than the same package with manual transmission.
The Seicento Suite version, with standard air conditioning, is unchanged at L17.45 million ($9,695). But it is now equipped with Fiat's more modern 1.1-liter FIRE engine in place of the 899cc.
Fiat also cut the price of air conditioning as an option from L2.1 million ($1,165) to L1.8 million ($1,000). It priced the new ABS option at L1.4 million ($780). Electric power steering will cost L800,000 ($445) when it becomes available this autumn.
An Elettra electric version is also available. The Seicento Elettra has four seats, while the Cinquecento Elettra is a two-seater. The lead acid battery in the new car is partly housed in the central tunnel.
The new Elettra has a top speed of 100kph and a town range of 90km. Price remains the biggest obstacle for private buyers. It is expected to cost about L37 million ($20,550).
The Seicento is built in Tychy, Poland. By 1999, the Tychy plant will have capacity for 250,000 units. Fiat plans to sell 90,000 units in Italy, 75,000 in Poland, and 85,000 in the rest of Europe, mainly Germany, France and UK.
The Cinquecento's best year was 208,500 units in 1997. This year Fiat will make 92,000 Cinquecentos and 140,000 Seicentos.
Stephane Farhi contributed to this report