James Blades, former head of Fiat Auto UK, was named director of marketing at Fiat Auto in Turin last year. He is responsible for marketing of the Fiat, Lancia and Alfa Romeo brands. He was interviewed by Georg Auer of Automotive News Europe.
Fiat wants to be a global player, so why avoid the US market?
We are a major player and intend to have a sales and industrial investment presence around the globe. We are not keeping away from North America, we are simply not present at this point. Our priorities are the growth markets.
How will you strengthen your position in mature markets while penetrating new ones?
We have a number of domestic markets. We consider Europe a domestic market and within that, Italy is an even more domestic market. Brazil is a domestic market as is Turkey. We have a strong market share and a strong industrial presence in these areas.
As importers, each market differs. But our model range was designed to appeal equally to developed and export markets.
What are your plans for China?
We will be present, with both commercial vehicles and cars, but we cannot elaborate.
You make a special vehicle for the developing markets, the Palio. Why is the Weekend version also sold in the developed markets?
Developing markets deserve a vehicle that is good for western Europe. We did not create a vehicle for developing markets. When planning a world car we looked for a homogenous segment in all markets and built a vehicle for it.
How do you build a global car with character?
For us globalization does not imply a reduction to a common denominator. We start with market research and target market segments with common requirements. We are in the vanguard of the drive to build world cars.
On our project 178 (Palio, Siena, Weekend), for example, the vehicles, engineering and manufacturing control is totally integrated worldwide.
How do you decide on producing a new car?
We work in a very cross-functional way.
Marketing, research and the production department are all involved in a co-ordinated approach.
Can you trust market research?
If it is done well and interpreted properly there should be few problems. We do market research and listen to it. We are continually checking, both about product ideas and that we are meeting the promise we make to the consumer.
What do you think of the new marketing methods like mega-dealers and touchscreens.
Direct contact is important in sales, while the use of computers and Internet is going to grow. The Internet will be important for all shopping in the future and the motor industry will have to develop with it.
How can you avoid mistakes in marketing?
It is a very simple question with a very complex answer. In the end the key concept of marketing is the centrality of the customer.
It is all about understanding the customers' needs, communicating our promise and delivering our product. It is also about ensuring that the customer is completely satisfied that the promise has been delivered.
It is not part of our approach to try to convince the customer they actually need something they do not want.
Our approach is very different. It is to understand perfectly what the customer wants and get as near to that as possible.Will the Italian market collapse when the government ends incentives for scrapping old cars?
We don't think so. The market seems strong and there is a graded withdrawal of incentives which should avoid the risk of repeating the French experience.