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Fiat Auto prepares to return Lancia to UK

Fiat Auto is expected to re-introduce Lancia to the UK as part of a plan to reach 4.2 million annual global sales of cars and light commercials by 2008 - a 75% increase over last year's 2.44 million.

Jim Blades, Fiat UK managing director, said: “No decision has been made on Lancia but I am absolutely up for it.” He axed Fiat Auto's luxury brand in Britain in 1993.

The Thesis saloon, unveiled at last month's Barcelona show, would become a group flagship alongside the Fiat and sporty Alfa Romeo ranges in Britain. Representatives from the UK's 180 Fiat and 80 Alfa Romeo dealerships were among 6,000 executives from 2,180 dealerships in 25 countries at intensive three-day strategy presentations in Milan.

Delegates were given previews of future product ranges including the Fiat Stilo (replacement for Bravo/Brava at the end of the year) and 260bhp GTA-badged versions of the Alfa Romeo 156 and Sportwagon. The GTA designation will rival BMW's M-series and Mercedes-Benz's AMG derivatives.

The group is positioning Fiat for first-time buyers and families, Alfa Romeo for younger, sportier owners and Lancias for the wealthy. Fiat has finally grasped the importance of branding and marketing expenditure in Europe in 2002 will be £427m, a 25% year-on-year rise. Juan Jose Diaz Ruiz, Fiat Auto vice president, said: “We will visit dealers individually to discuss where they want to go with us and what is needed to be done. We want to give our dealers the opportunity to take part in the growth that will result from Fiat's product plan.”

Fiat Auto will spend £8.54bn to launch 19 new models by the end of 2005. This will include £2.75bn on powertrain joint ventures with Fiat's strategic business partner, General Motors.

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