TURIN - Fiat is fully aware that its Multipla minivan looks like nothing else on the road. Other designers call it bold and courageous. Fiat Auto President Roberto Testore says the car is audacious.
Fiat is willing to explain itself, but it does not want to sound defensive.
'As our way of life evolves, so does our concept of the car,' said Testore. Designers were told not to compromise on appearance, but to design the Multipla to be practical.
Thus, the windshield meets the hood at an unconventional angle, because to look 'normal' would have wasted space. The top of the car is wider than the bottom. It gives shoulder room to passengers and prevents rain from dropping onto occupants when they climb in.
'Multipla was a very interesting study when it was first shown two years ago,' said Mercedes-Benz chief designer Bruno Sacco. 'I am a bit surprised that it now stands here as a production car. It is very daring of Fiat.'
Fiat didn't clinic the car with customers, said spokesman Peter Newton of Fiat UK. 'Paolo Canteralla doesn't believe in it,' said Newton. 'He says we should follow our convictions.'
The Scenic-fighter's platform is unique. It uses a space-frame technology. Testore said the design reduced the cost of capital investment and makes manufacturing very flexible.
The Multipla will be offered with a 1.6-liter gasoline engine and a 1.9-liter diesel. A high, flat floor was designed to accommodate a natural gas option, a natural gas-gasoline bi-fuel, an electric version and an electric-gasoline hybrid.
Pricing has not been announced. Sales will begin in November. Although Testore said Fiat officially expects annual sales of 45,000 units, others are more optimistic.
'We actually target 60,000-70,000 units in 1999,' said Loic Caperan, Fiat's marketing and sales manager. 'It's no longer a niche vehicle but a vehicle for conquest.'
Georg Auer and Stephane Farhi contributed