RIO DE JANEIRO - Fiat Auto has invested E175 million to face-lift the four Palio models that make up its world car range.
The second-generation cars will be launched in Europe through 2001. Launch schedule and production volumes have not been decided.
Italy, France, Germany and Portugal are the major European markets for the Palio range. The cars have not been sold in the UK and there are no plans to change that strategy.
The Palio is aimed at first-car buyers, said Juan Jose Diaz Ruiz, Fiat Auto's head of sales and marketing.
'Most [Palio] customers are urban dwellers who want a sensible package that is easy to drive with low fuel consumption,' he said.
'With the Palio we are seeking to establish a brand loyalty among young car buyers,' said Diaz Ruiz. 'In this respect, the role of the Palio is more important than its volumes.'
Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro restyled the model lineup, which includes the Palio hatchback, Siena sedan, Weekend station wagon and Strada pickup.
The front of the car has a more rounded appearance with restyled hood and wings, headlamps with clear lenses and a new grille. The rear has been altered to produce the look of a bigger car without changing the overall lines.
Revised ride and handling features include a new subframe and lower wishbones for the strut suspension, and modified rear damper and spring settings.
New mechanical features include a drive-by-wire accelerator available on most models, and a hydraulic clutch.
Fiat has also incorporated its VENICE (Vehicle Network with Integrated Control Elec-tronics) system that brings together the car's electrical functions. Fiat says the system enhances reliability by reducing the number of wires and connections by almost 25 percent.
Engines are lighter and more efficient. New features include a plastic intake manifold, electronic injection and lightweight connecting rods. Sixteen-valve engines have aluminum engine blocks.
Base cars are fitted with a FIRE 1.0-liter, eight-valve unit with 55hp. The range-topping 1.6-liter, 16-valve engine generates 106hp, giving a 0-100kph acceleration time of 9.5 seconds.
Fiat builds Palios in Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Poland, Turkey, Morocco, India, Russia and South Africa. The cars are sold in 36 markets. The hatchback derivative accounts for the majority of sales.
Brazil is the biggest single market for the Palio. Fiat sold more than 320,000 Palios worldwide in the first eight months of this year - 60,000 of them in Brazil. Fiat will build 500,000 Palios this year.
Fiat's world car program was originally developed at a cost of $2 billion. Production started in Brazil in 1997. Fiat planned to have built one million units by September 1998.
But the milestone model was not reached until February 1999 - mainly because of the economic crisis in Brazil.
Fiat to build Doblo in Turkey, Page 20