TURIN -- Over the next 24 months, Fiat brands will introduce four-wheel-drive versions of 10 vehicles in a bid to break Fiat Auto out of its sales doldrums.
If consumers respond positively to the permanent 4wd offerings from Fiat and Alfa Romeo, the Italian automaker is considering adding up to five more models with the option by 2008, including one for Lancia.
"We have found a way to offer 4wd at a very competitive price for the consumer," says a high-ranking Fiat Auto executive on condition of anonymity.
"We hope our new 4wd models offer Fiat a competitive advantage against our main competitors, which right now offer only front-wheel-drive cars," the executive says.
The executive declined to disclose mechanical details of the permanent 4wd system or to disclose a volume target.
But the plan includes two SUVs and 4wd powertrain options on eight cars and minivans, so the planned 4wd volume may be 100,000 or more units annually by 2006. The plan includes three Fiat and seven Alfa models, with potential for another three Fiats, another Alfa vehicle and a Lancia.
For the last decade, Fiat brands offered only a single model with 4wd, the previous-generation Fiat Panda that was discontinued in July 2003.
The 4wd could give Fiat a product feature to drive sales, which have fallen 29 percent to 1.05 million units in western Europe in the last three years.
Few of its close rivals in mass-market segments have 4wd. Currently, no South Korean carmakers offer a 4wd car. Nor do European volume makers Ford, Opel/Vauxhall, Peugeot, Citroen and MG Rover. Renault offers 4wd only on its Kangoo car-derived van.
Volkswagen Group offers various 4wd cars for all its volume brands -- Seat, Skoda and VW. Of the nine Japanese brands sold in Europe, only Suzuki and Subaru offer 4wd cars.
The first 4wd Fiat group vehicles go on sale in October. That's when Alfa Romeo will introduce 4wd variants of the 156: the Sportwagon Q4 and Crosswagon Q4. Alfa plans 15,000 units, about 20 percent of total 156 production.
Also out in October will be the Panda 4x4, the first of two Fiat Panda variants with four-wheel drive. Fiat expects this four-wheel-drive Panda will account for about up to 15 percent of model output. Fiat originally projected Panda volume would be 200,000 units a year, but the car has been a hit and current projections are 240,000 annually. A second 4wd variant, called the Panda SUV, will come in 2005. Despite its name, it is an ordinary Panda with cladding to make it look like a SUV.