TURIN - Poland is still the focal point of Fiat Auto's strategy in central and eastern Europe, but a new Russian plant will broaden its base in the region.
Last year 212,211 Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Lancia passenger cars and commercial vehicles were sold in central and eastern Europe. Poland alone accounted for 176,777 sales - or more than 83 percent of the total.
Fiat's only plants in the area are located in Poland. The Bielsko-Biala and Tichy plants, both in south Poland, turned out 343,741 vehicles last year. Of that total, 174,255 were exported to other European markets.
Bielsko-Biala builds the Fiat 126, Uno, Palio and Siena. Tichy is Fiat's sole global production site for the Seicento.
But Fiat is expanding in the region. On March 21, it signed an agreement to invest E400 million to create ZAO Nizhegorod Motors, a joint venture with Russian carmaker OAO GAZ and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Fiat is expected to start car production in Russia in late 2001 or early 2002.
The Russian plant will build the Palio hatchback and station wagon plus the Maxi-Siena, a modified Siena sedan with a longer wheelbase and a wider body. Full capacity is expected to be around 75,000 units a year.
Fiat has three operation levels in central and eastern Europe:
A complete manufacturing and distribution subsidiary located in Poland
National sales companies in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary
Private importers in the 22 remaining markets.
After Poland, which absorbed 157,239 Fiat brand passenger cars last year, the biggest central and eastern European markets for the marque were Hungary (7,956 units), Slovenia (6,036), Croatia (4,695) and the Czech Republic (4,846).
Alfa Romeo sold 4,505 units across the region last year, of which 2,447 were in Poland, 641 in Hungary and 466 in Slovenia. Lancia sales in the region were just 477 units last year.