TURIN - Fiat Auto is introducing the Strada, a pickup derivative of its 178 world car, in selected west European markets.
The Strada is the second model in the world-car program to reach western Europe. The Palio Weekend station wagon was launched here early last year.
The Palio hatchback and the Siena sedan are not sold in western Europe. A small van, to replace the Fiorino Furgao, will be added in the second half of 2000 and will complete the 178 world car range. It will also be sold in Europe.
'Three years ago the 178 program was only the Palio hatchback,' said Roberto Testore, Fiat Auto managing director. 'Now we have four different models sold in 32 countries. The growth will continue both in terms of new production sites and new markets.'
Fiat invested L156 billion (euro 81 million, $85.7 million) in the Brazilian-built Strada. That brings the total investment to date in the program to almost L2.6 trillion.
Fiat will build 40,000-45,000 Stradas a year at the plant in Belo Horizonte. Western Europe will receive 5,000. Of those, 3,000 will go to Italy and the remaining 2,000 will be divided between Germany, Portugal and Greece.
Fiat estimates western Europe pickup sales of about 87,000 units in 1998, of which 19,000 will be light pickups like the Skoda Felicia and the Fiat Fiorino pick-up that will be replaced by the Strada.
Strada sales began in Italy in early May. Prices are L19.4 million ($10,645) for the 73hp 1.25-liter gasoline and L21.9 million ($12,000) for the 69hp 1.7-liter turbodiesel.
Fiat said 178 production reached 1.04 million units in February, less than three years after the launch of the Palio hatchback in Brazil in April 1996.
Fiat's originally targeted production of one million units by mid-1998, but the Brazilian economic slump delayed reaching that goal. Reduced demand in South America has cut about 250,000 units a year out of projected annual volumes for the 178, Testore said.
Fiat plans to make around 420,000 178-derived cars this year, up from 417,000 last year, 391,000 in 1997 and 149,000 in 1996.
Of the first million 178s built, 70 percent were Palio hatchbacks, 8 percent Palio Weekend station wagons, and 11 percent Siena sedans. The Strada, introduced last November in Brazil and January 1999 in Argentina, is eventually planned to account for 10 percent of 178 production.
Fiat's 178 models are currently built in Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Poland, Turkey, Morocco and India, and are sold in 32 countries. By the end of the year, production will be extended to Russia and South Africa and the number of markets will rise to 36. Production will start in Egypt in 2000 and in China by 2001-2002.