Fiat UK has set, for 2002, a target of 30,000 registrations of Stilo, its newcomer in the C-sector which is Europe's most fiercely contested. Sales of the outgoing Bravo/Brava are expected to total 20,000 this year.
Managing director James Blades said two-thirds of Bravo/Brava sales had been retail. Backed by a reorganised fleet department, and 50 to 60 dealer business centres, Fiat aimed over time to have a 50-50 split between retail and fleet/business sales of Stilo.
“We've been preparing with the dealer network for this launch for more than a year,” Mr Blades said at the international launch of the Stilo in Barcelona. “It's part of a roll-out of models which will see the Stilo in UK showrooms in February and a D-segment model on the new General Motors Epsilon platform a year later.
“We want dealers to have more volume, and more profits. We have around 170 dealers and foresee over time a network of around 200.”
Fiat Auto views 3dr and 5dr Stilo as perhaps its most important new model for more than a decade. It hopes Stilo will reshape the Fiat brand in the way 156 led a renaissance of Alfa Romeo.
The 3dr and 5dr versions are significantly different, though both feature a sharp-edged style more associated with German design. The 3dr is significantly lower, with sportier lines, and aimed at buyers looking for 'lifestyle' choice.
The 5dr version is more likely to appeal to existing buyers and to fleet and business user-choosers with an eye on tax. Fiat likens the 3dr to a coupe and the 5dr to an MPV.
The C-segment accounts for 30% of Europe's sales, and each year there are 2m new buyers to the segment – 1m down-sizing and the rest moving up.
Fiat chief executive Robert Testore described the C-segment as “the cross-roads” for the European automotive market. He said 400,000 Stilo sales would be reached in 2003, when the launch range would be augmented by an estate car. Next year sales of the Stilo would reach 350,000, he said, though analysts believe this is an optimistic target.
In the UK, the engine range will include 1.2-, 1.6- and 1.8-litre 16v petrol engines, 1.9-litre 80bhp and 115bhp direct-injection diesel units.
Topping the range will be a 2.4-litre five-cylinder 20v engine which reintroduces the Abarth brand to the European market. There is room for even bigger engines under the bonnet.
Mr Blades said: “The model mix, in the early stages, will depend on what the factory supplies. But I expect most sales to be around the 1.6-litre 5dr and 1.8-litre 3dr versions, with diesel sales taking around 20%.
Juan Jose Diaz Ruiz, Fiat sales and marketing vice president, said the Stilo would be priced to give “up to 15% more value” but he was not specific about its competitors.
Fiat executives say Stilo is built to much tighter quality specifications than earlier models and, with its high specification, can take on the VW Golf.
Also in Fiat's sights is Peugeot's new 307 and the Vauxhall Astra produced by GM, the manufacturer's US associate.
Equipment available in the Stilo range includes sliding and reclining rear seats, radar cruise control (which keeps the car from getting too close to other traffic), parking sensor, windscreen wipers and lights which turn on automatically.
Also available will be a speed limit warning and a transponder which unlocks the car when the owner approaches, locks it up when the car has been parked and provides keyless ignition.