TURIN - Fiat Auto will soon base all European-built cars on a new platform concept that it says will mean lower investment, more product differentiation, and a shorter time to market.
The new type of structure combines a stamped steel underbody with a steel upper spaceframe carrying the body panels. The panels will no longer be part of the car's structure, allowing them to be changed without the need for new crash tests and structural analyses.
Next year's Fiat Punto and Lancia Dedra replacements will be the last new models based fully on the company's traditional self-bearing steel platform. The replacements for the Alfa Romeo 145/146 and Lancia K due in 2000 will partially use the new structure.
The technology will be fully implemented for the Fiat Bravo and Brava replacements in 2001. The innovative hybrid structure is expected to eventually be used for all Fiat Group cars produced in Europe.
Fiat says length and width can be easily and cheaply modified with the new structure and that both front- and rear-wheel-drive can be adapted.
The first stage in Fiat's shift to the new technology is the new Fiat Multipla small minivan, which uses a pure spaceframe, not the hybrid planned for future models.
'Using a traditional platform for the Multipla would have meant doubling our total investment, including tooling, from the actual cost of L250 billion ($150 million),' said Fiat Auto Managing Director Roberto Testore.
The Multipla will break even at 40,000 units a year, he said.
Testore said Fiat also learned a lot about spaceframe technology, which he said 'will be progressively extended to many other products, not only niche or small-volume models, but also to mass production.'
With the Multipla's pure spaceframe, 77 percent of the Multipla's value is now accounted for by outsourced components - the highest of any Fiat Auto product. The spaceframe's steel cross-members are purchased from outside. Only part of the body stampings and the complete welding is done in-house at Fiat's Mirafiori plant.
Fiat rejected using an aluminum spaceframe for the Multipla, choosing instead a new high tensile steel because it is easier to repair and allows light body constructions.
The Multipla spaceframe was co-developed by Fiat and UTS, a Turin engineering firm. EMARC of Turin supplied the steel components.