Fiat’s "Little Mouse" with a Serbian Accent to Target Smart?

By Andy Bannister

05.02.2008


An all-new baby Fiat built in Serbia should be on the market by 2010 and is already being compared to the company’s classic “Little Mouse”, the Topolino (right), a hugely influential small car launched by the company back in 1936, which was the smallest mass-produced car of its era.

The new vehicle is set to be the first non-sporting Fiat car for many years to be offered in a two-seat version.

In that form it should be the first serious mainstream competitor for the Smart car, on sale in Europe since 1998 and now into its second generation.

The Smart is a big seller in cities across the continent, including Fiat’s home town, Turin, and Italy’s capital , Rome.

The move comes after Fiat and the Serbian Ministry of Economy and Regional Development signed a memorandum of understanding to create a new company that will take over Zastava, the troubled automaker currently owned by the Serbian state.

Zastava produces small numbers of a range of old Fiat-derived cars, including the model known to Americans as the Yugo. It has recently introduced a relatively modern Fiat, the previous-generation Punto hatchback, which is exported to neighbouring countries under the name Zastava 10.

Fiat will hold a majority stake in the company and be responsible for a massive boost in planned production at the factory in Kragujevac. It is set to become the manufacturing centre for around 200,000 Fiats in 2009, and in 2010 should see the launch of the small B-compact model Fiat is currently developing, which should add another 100,000 units.

It is already being termed the “new Topolino” harking back to the original front-engined Fiat 500, made in various forms until 1955.

This model, designed by the brilliant Fiat engineer Dante Giacosa, was a true Italian “people’s car” and would have sold in far greater numbers than the 520,000 it achieved had it not being for the outbreak of the Second World War, which stopped sales for years.

It was mainly famous as a two-seater with styling some have dubbed “art deco”. A later and slightly enlarged Belvedere estate derivative could squeeze four people aboard.

The new Serbian-built model may be as small as the existing Smart Fortwo, with two-seat and four-seat versions like the original Topolino. It will sit on a shortened version of the existing Panda and 500 platform.

As well as opening up new sales at the lower end of the market, it also sounds like the effective replacement for the old Seicento (600), Fiat’s smallest recent car, pictured right.

An elderly design, dating back to a previous model launched in 1992, it has been overtaken by newer and more stylish small cars from rival companies.

A better equipped version of the new model, sporting the badge of Fiat’s luxury Lancia division, could also be built at the Serbian factory.
Fiat has a long track-record of working in eastern Europe, and currently builds the successful 500 and Panda at its plant at Tychy in Poland. Zastava, like the former FSO concern in Poland and Lada in Russia, built Fiat derivatives in the communist era as joint ventures with the Italian company.

This latest move seems like another example of the gradual shift eastwards in European car manufacturing, away from the higher wage economies of countries which use the Euro.

For Serbia, politically and economically isolated for years, this looks like very good news, rewarding the country’s success against the odds in managing to keep a trickle of Zastavas in production throughout the disintegration of former Yugoslavia and the resulting series of painful wars.

While the deal may help strengthen Fiat’s recovery from a recent period of decline where it seemed to fall behind key European rivals, the big number of cars to be manufactured at Kragujevac is potentially less good news for workers in Fiat’s Italian homeland.

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Author: Andy Bannister

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2 Comments

  1. Zastava and Fiat, this sounds like the setup to a joke, doesn’t it? But Fiat is on a roll and I for one would love to see them give Smart some competition in this city car segment. They certainly have the chops to do it.

  2. Fiat is doing great but I don’t think this is the right move for them. I don’t think they belong in this market segment.

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