Two vehicles to bolster Fiat and Alfa

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Words: NZ Autocar
1 Jul 2020

The marketing chief at FCA, Olivier François, has long been harbouring an idea about how to replace Fiat’s most popular base model, the third-generation Panda.

The newcomer is based on a concept car that marked 120 years of Fiat’s existence, the Centoventi. In its base form it would be grey only and have sparse specification. There would be plenty of configuration possibilities, or “add-ons”, one being an affordable electric drivetrain, its small battery pack offering a range of just 100km. Additional battery packs offering a further 100km of range each would also be available.

As to other models in the line-up there may be none, said François, because the add-ons effectively create higher spec models. This means only one wiring loom is needed for the Panda ‘range’.

The real issue, according to François, is when to offer this radical approach to the BEV. The new Panda with petrol power is due next year. Evidently the issue was getting the concept past former FCA head, Sergio Marchionne, as EV timing is critical and it is hard to turn a profit on entry-level EVs.

Francois pitched it as a new city car rather than a Panda replacement and Marchionne was impressed. However, he died before the project went any further.

Afterwards, new FCA CEO Michael Manley, picked up the 4th-gen Panda baton. Where new Panda is going depends largely on what happens to the more upmarket 500 line-up, due for a shake-up, while a compact family SUV is also envisaged. All these will have “a sustainable price, roominess, good design, key equipment and safety.”

“We want to do a socially relevant car, a city car that’s electric and affordable. And that’s currently an oxymoron.”

Francois envisages an electric Panda arriving in 2023.

As to Alfa, its key future vehicle is the Tonale SUV.

Scott Krugger, Alfa’s chief designer, reckons this is a visually distinctive car that has a few strong simple character lines.

The inspiration came, according to Tonale’s chief exterior designer, Alexandros Liokis, from Giugiaro’s 1963 Giulia GT coupé, especially the gentle arc that runs from the front wing through to its tail.

FCA’s European design boss, Klaus Busse, chipped in by saying that the design was not done digitally or using clay but through the medium of plaster. This was how the Lamborghini Countach and Lancia Stratos came about. In fact, Fiat hired the same plasterer!

Kruger describes Tonale as a ‘pure’ design. It needs to be special as Alfa sales have almost halved this year, from 41,646 to 24,252.

Tonale will borrow new Jeep Renegade underpinnings, and both will offer a plug-in hybrid variant. Alfa will have to extract its characteristic dynamics using fundamentally a front-drive SUV platform, albeit an updated one.

Krugger trusts his dynamics team is up to the task. As UK Autocar commented though, for Alfa the Tonale cannot come soon enough. It is due out within a year.

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