Three is the magic number for triple top Fiat Professional
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Fiat scooped the Light Van prize for the third consecutive year in the What Van? Awards 2013 and the Italian manufacturer is intent on building upon the Doblo Cargo’s success. James Dallas reports
Fiat Professional celebrated a hat trick when its Doblo Cargo won the Light Van prize in the 2013 What Van? Awards – the third year in a row the outstanding light commercial has come out on top in the category.
This year it shared the podium with Vauxhall’s new Combo, which is also made at Fiat’s factory in Tofas, Turkey, and is effectively the same van under the skin. In fact, Fiat likes to think of the Combo as an endorsement of its own investment in light commercial vehicles.
With a range of frugal and competent engines (90hp 1.3, 105hp 1.6 and 135hp 2.0 common-rail diesels plus a 95hp 1.4 petrol), load volumes of 3.4-4.2m3 and payloads between 750kg and a heavyweight one-tonne, the Doblo Cargo remains the most practical and able van in a class that contains such luminaries as the VW Caddy and Renault Kangoo and is soon set to be complemented by the Mercedes Citan. Models such as the Doblo Cargo Maxi Van means the van increasingly appeals to operators who previously used larger vehicles.
Proof of quality
Fiat Professional’s UK chief, Sebastiano Fedrigo, says scooping the award again was “proof of the Doblo’s quality”.
“It’s key because it’s not us but a panel of judges involved in the LCV market saying it’s the best-in-class.”
Fedrigo says the continued recognition of the Doblo’s quality reflected Fiat’s renowned strength in the light and small van sectors: “In the UK we clearly have a position with the Doblo and Fiorino.” He adds that the Doblo commands a 4.9% share of the light van segment while the Fiorino has a quarter share of the compact van segment, which may be niche at the moment but is set to grow with the increasing popularity of city vans and the demise of car-derived vans such as the Peugeot 207 van and Vauxhall Astravan.
Having said that, Fiat has no plans to phase out its Punto Van, although Fedrigo admits it is more popular elsewhere in Europe than in the UK. “It’s still used by engineers without much payload need,” he explains.
Fiat has also recently supplemented its Fiorino line-up with a crew van version featuring a moveable bulkhead and seats that tumble forward.
While Fedrigo welcomes Transport for London’s decision to open up congestion charge exemption to vans, he believes the entry point of 75g/km CO2 is not correct. “The threshold is set way too low but it gives us a target,” he says. “Our mentality is to provide viable solutions in a green manner so the congestion charge is a challenge, but we have nothing now.” However, other than electric vans, which were exempt anyway, nor does anyone else.
Fiat is developing an electric version of its 500 city car (500E) in the US, but it has no plans to introduce the technology in the UK. Fedrigo reckons the infrastructure for alternative fuels is not yet well-established enough to persuade many operators to invest in electric vans, although he admits they can serve “specific uses”.
But it is further up the weight chain that Fiat feels it should be better recognised, and Fedrigo says much of the brand’s focus in 2013 will be on increasing awareness of the Ducato in the big-selling heavy van segment, where he feels it can grow its current share of 4.6%: “There is a lack of understanding of what the Ducato can do. We now have a new engine (2.3-litre Multijet II) and Traction Plus.”
He acknowledges that work needs to be done on the ground at local level to put the Ducato on the radar of operators who at present do not consider it an option. Fedrigo argues this is largely because other manufacturers have more long-established and wider representation in the regions. He believes the creation of Fiat Professional as an exclusive LCV division in 2007 has given the manufacturer an edge over its competitors in product terms by facilitating a “continuity in engineering” and says the focus now is on developing a retail network that caters for the needs of van operators, particularly the SMEs that do not currently consider Fiat as a primary option.
Central to the strategy is loading up the network with dealers that have a heavy goods vehicle background with DAF and Iveco. As Fedrigo points out, these businesses offer extended opening hours, enabling, for example, van operators to get their fleets serviced overnight, thus reducing downtime. Fedrigo says 45% of the Fiat Professional retail network now provides light commercial vehicles with servicing schedules tailored to the requirements of HGVs, and insists that for operators “this comes into the equation when buying vans”.
Fiat Professional currently has 124 UK sites, 50 of which are truck-based.
“We have learnt from our key partners like DAF and Iveco,” Fedrigo says, and stresses the importance of training technicians to service LCVs.
“Every dealership has a Fiat Professional specialist,” he says.
Overall, Fedrigo believes Fiat Professional now possesses the youngest and widest product line-up in the business. He particularly enthuses over the cutting-edge diesel technology that led to the introduction of the Multijet II engine in 2009. Fiat shares the 2.2-litre version of the drivetrain with PSA brands Citroen and Peugeot but has sole use of the 2.3 version, which powers the Ducato.
“It’s a major breakthrough for us and differentiates us from the competition,” Fedrigo says. What’s more, he claims the latest Multijet diesel technology will give Fiat “the chance to be the best performer in terms of mpg” when linked to the brand’s Ecodrive system, which encourages more economical acceleration, braking and gear changes and, Fiat asserts, can result in fuel savings of up to 15% per driver.
“On top of Multijet II it gives us a clear market focus on economy and emissions reduction,” says Fedrigo.
Towards the end of 2011 Fiat launched a new segment of the market with the introduction of its Doblo Work Up – a compact, two-seat dropside pick-up that features a flat load area capable
of accommodating three Euro pallets. The 2.3m-long by 1.8m- wide load bay is made up of a high-resistance steel box with aluminium alloy sides that all drop independently. The Work Up has
a payload capacity of 1000kg and is up for grabs with two engines from the Doblo Cargo line-up: the 90hp 1.3-litre and 105hp 1.6 Multijet diesels.
Aimed at the agricultural, construction, maintenance and city park service sectors, Fedrigo says the Work Up has attracted lots of interest from councils downsizing from bigger dropsides.
In 2012 the manufacturer introduced the high-roof Doblo XL, which combines the one-tonne payload capacity with an increased load volume of 5.0m3.
Both models add further strings to the bow of Fiat’s impressive, award-winning line-up of light vans.
Fiat Professional’s UK boss Sebastiano Fedrigo expects to see a modest rise in van sales in the UK in 2013 despite the continuing economic difficulties.
“I think that registrations in 2013 will start slowly then gradually increase as the year goes on,” he predicts. “We may see them grow by around 3%.”
Although he believes Fiat can increase its own share of the small fleet sector, Fedrigo thinks overall, demand from large fleets will drive much of the market in 2013. “Small businesses and the self-employed are still a bit cautious about committing themselves,” he says.
According to the SMMT, Fiat’s LCV sales fell by 13% to just over 7000 in 2012. Fiat commands a 12% share of the LCV market in Europe but less than 4% in the UK. Fedrigo concludes: “There’s clearly a gap we need to fill in terms of awareness.”