TURIN - In its next-generation Stilo, Fiat Auto will buck the powerful model-proliferation trend by only offering a five-door body style.
Many competitors are expanding the number of body styles whenever they replace a vehicle. But Fiat will drop the three-door hatchback and station wagon variants for its third biggest selling car after the Punto and Panda when the next Stilo is unveiled in late 2006.
"The cost equation to also make a three-door [Stilo replacement] wasn't working," Fiat Group and Fiat Auto CEO Sergio Marchionne said here in an exclusive interview with Automotive News Europe.
Fiat's strategy is to cover the gaps left by the missing body styles for the lower-medium Stilo with the three-door version of the small-segment Grande Punto and the next-generation Multipla medium minivan.
The Grande Punto is substantially longer than the Punto it replaces. More importantly for the new strategy, at 4030mm the Grande Punto is close to the current Stilo's 4180mm length.
Marchionne said Fiat thinks potential demand for the next Stilo five-door will not be affected by the lack of a three-door variant. The Stilo was introduced in 2001. The new model will go on sale in early 2007.
Marchionne is also convinced consumers will progressively shift to medium minivans from lower-medium station wagons. The Multipla medium minivan will be face-lifted early next year and replaced in 2008.
Marchionne denied that Fiat dropped the Stilo three-door and wagon for lack of capital.
"We had the money to invest in a new Stilo three-door and station wagon, but we did not foresee adequate volumes to recover the investment," Marchionne said. The Fiat chief does not believe carmakers can enlarge the market simply by adding more body variants.
Fiat sees declining potential for the Stilo. It planned to build 400,000 units annually of the current Stilo, but production peaked in 2002 at just 187,610 cars. Suppliers say Fiat is planning just 120,000 units a year for the next Stilo five-door.
Still, that would be an increase from the current model. This year the Stilo production will fall well under 100,000 units. In the first nine months, Stilo output was just 57,791 units, off 31 percent from 83,929 in the same period in 2004.