Fiat Auto would like buyers to perceive its latest Punto as a new, "third-generation" model. In fact, the car is just a face-lift of the second-generation Punto that was introduced in the summer of 1999.
The true third-generation Punto, code-named project 199, won't debut until September 2005. The car will be the first Fiat based on a new platform jointly developed with General Motors.
Fiat spent E220 million to face-lift the Punto. Revisions include new headlamps, grille, front and rear bumpers, two new engines and a new gearbox.
Fiat hopes the freshening will enable it to maintain Punto sales at between 400,000 and 420,000 units a year.
The revamped car will go on sale in Italy on June 7, and will be rolled out progressively in all other western European markets during the month.
Since the introduction of the first-generation model in September 1993, Fiat has built more than 5 million Puntos.
Sales averaged 500,000 units a year until 2002, when they decreased to 416,843 units. Fiat sold 541,273 Puntos the previous year.
The Punto is an important strategic model for Fiat, representing over 20 percent of sales. From 1994 to 2000, the Punto was Europe's best-selling supermini. The Peugeot 206 took over that title from 2001.
The Punto will continue to be built in the Mirafiori and Melfi plants, and starting in September production will be resumed at Termini Imerese, the Sicilian plant that was temporarily shut down in December 2002.
The new Punto is the first vehicle to use Fiat's 70hp, 1.3-liter Multijet common-rail engine, the world smallest turbodiesel. The new engine is expected to cover almost 30 percent of total sales. The revised Punto also features a new 95hp, 1.4-liter version of Fiat's FIRE engine.
The 1.3-liter Multijet will also be installed in Opel-Vauxhall cars, and is under consideration for use in European versions of Daewoo and Suzuki vehicles. But the 1.4-liter FIRE unit will only have Fiat-Lancia applications.
In a first for Fiat, buyers of the revamped Punto can specify an off-board satellite navigation system (OBN). Supplied by Blaupunkt, a unit of Robert Bosch, the Connect OBN does not need a CD player to read digitized maps. Instead, the unit downloads information by using the integrated global system for mobile communications (GSM) with general packet radio service (GPRS) data capability.
The navigation system uses maps that are constantly updated in real time and is much cheaper than a traditional system, claims Fiat. But no prices were announced for the Connect OBN system, or indeed for the new Punto itself.
Gianni Coda, president of the Fiat-Lancia-light commercial vehicle business unit, said that Punto prices "will start below E10,000." But he did not say what features would be included as standard on the entry-level model.
Currently, the cheapest Punto - the 1.2-liter, eight-valve EL three-door version - costs E10,400 in Italy. But it is a very basic version and comes with an airbag for the driver only. In January 2003, Fiat launched a Feel special edition of the Punto for E9,980. The model includes such features as air conditioning and electric power steering, and has been a strong seller.
Coda said that the Punto range would be priced "very competitively." He also promised that this would be the last time Fiat would introduce a new model without announcing its prices.