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A Grande start to Fiat’s year

Fiat Auto UK has tasted success again at last with a strong sales performance in March driven by the opening salvo in its 12-month £25m Grande Punto advertising campaign.

Its 10,699 new car registrations (2.45% of the market) included more than 6,000 Grande Puntos and close to 2,000 units of the previous Punto, which continues for a while.

In March last year, Fiat totalled only 6,513 registrations (1.47% of the market). Its first-quarter performance has improved, too: 14,875 registrations (2.22%), compared with 10,298/1.47% in January-March 2005.

Some manufacturers pumped money into March incentives to boost sales, but Giulio Salomone, Fiat’s UK managing director, says: “We sold Grande Puntos profitably, and our dealers are delighted they are making money again.

“I promised them at our Grande Punto launch meeting in January that Fiat would be the fastest-growing brand in the UK in March. Our forecast was correct, and we were 60% up on March last year. But we have to start all over again at the beginning of each month this year because the market is so hard.”

Last year, Fiat registrations totalled only half the 2004 figure as it pulled out of many daily rental contracts that inflated registrations but were unprofitable and deflated residual values. Salomone believes Fiat can achieve 32,000 Grande Punto registrations this year without heavy incentivizing.

The manufacturer used the impetus from March to launch the Sedici, its 4x4 named after the Italian for 16, and on sale from early this month.

Fiat Auto UK has an allocation of 1,500 Sedicis for the remainder of the year and believes it could sell more. Priced from £12,495, the Sedici is built at a plant near Budapest in Hungary where Suzuki manufactures the SX4, its equivalent model.

Suzuki plans to sell 4,000 of its compact SUV in the UK this year. It is priced from £9,999 but that is for a front-drive-only version that Fiat will not sell.

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