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CAR confidential: Fiat goes Scandinavian

Fiat retailers will have a Scandinavian flourish from 2008, when the Italians’ alliance with Ikea rolls out to British showrooms. But no amount of pale wood furniture paintwork will lure in the punters if the next wave of Fiats don’t maintain the new Punto’s momentum.

Luca De Meo, Fiat brand director, vows that they will. His plan is to rebuild the marque from its small car core, with new Punto variants including a 190bhp hot hatch, the Cinquecento city car and the make-or-break Stilo replacement.

Fiat fast-forwarded the new family hatch by almost six months to November 2006, to eradicate today’s stiff from showrooms.

Chief errors were conservative styling – so alien to Fiat – when competitors were going bold, and a high gadget count that pushed the sticker price beyond the Fiat norm.

It’s ciao to the Stilo name, and welcome back to the Brava badge. “It will be a very beautiful car, with a very high level of perceived quality,” says De Meo. Fiat managed to compress the development time into 18 months by engineering the car virtually, eliminating prototypes. Key to this was carrying over much of the existing platform, deemed dynamically good enough for the Alfa Romeo 147 replacement and a new sporty Lancia.

The next new model is the Cinquecento, which will hit UK showrooms in early 2008. De Meo has huge admiration for the new Mini’s launch, and vows that the 500 will be as faithful to its original as BMW’s baby is to the Issigonis template. “The 500 is going to change Fiat’s image,” promises De Meo.

He is backing the company to be one of the fastest growing automotive brands in the next three years. If so, Fiat showrooms might have more than just the feel of Ikea – ideally they’ll be as crowded as the Scando superstores come the weekend.

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