TURIN, Italy -- Over the next two years, Fiat brands will introduce four-wheel-drive versions of 10 vehicles in a bid to lift Fiat Auto out of its sales doldrums.
If consumers respond positively to the 4wd offerings from Fiat and Alfa Romeo, the Italian automaker is thinking of adding as many as five more models with the option by 2008. One of them would be 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 who spoke 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 declined to disclose mechanical details of the 4wd system or a volume target.
The plan includes two SUVs and 4wd powertrain options on eight cars and minivans. The annual 4wd volume may be 100,000 or more vehicles by 2006.
Fiat's Panda 4x4, to be launched in October, will have four-wheel drive.
In the past decade, Fiat brands offered only one model with 4wd. The previous-generation Fiat Panda was discontinued in July 2003.
The 4wd option could give Fiat a product feature to drive sales. Fiat sales have dropped by 40.9 percent to 1.05 million vehicles in western Europe over the past four years.
Few of Fiat's close rivals in mass-market segments offer 4wd. No South Korean automaker has a 4wd car. Nor do the 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 its volume brands - Seat, Skoda and VW. Of the nine Japanese brands sold in Europe, only Suzuki and Subaru offer 4wd cars.
The Alfa Crosswagon Q4 with 4wd also is to debut in October.
Also out in October will be the Panda 4x4, the first of two Fiat Panda variants with 4wd. Fiat expects the 4wd Panda to account for as much as 15 percent of model output.
Fiat originally projected Panda volume at 200,000 vehicles a year. But the car has been a hit, and current projections are for 240,000 sales a year. In the first six months of the year, Fiat sold 103,735 of the vehicles, a 138.7 percent increase over the year-ago period.
A second 4wd variant, called the Panda SUV, will arrive in 2005. Despite its name, the vehicle is an ordinary Panda with cladding to make it look like an SUV.