A serial winner of the light van award, Fiat’s well-regarded model returned to the podium following a mid-life Facelift, James Dallas reports
Fiat Professional’s Doblo Cargo was knocked off its perch as the winner of What Van?’s Light Van of the Year Award last year – but not for long.
While Ford’s new generation Transit Connect took the prize in 2015 as the mid-life Doblo approached its facelift, this year the Italian brand’s model stormed back onto the top of podium – a position it considers its birthright, having captured the award for four years running following its launch in 2010.
Andrea Patti, Fiat Professional’s marketing manager says:
“The award is very important, What Van? is one of the most recognised magazines in the UK.”
Acknowledging the Doblo Cargo’s status as a serial winner of the light van category, Patti adds: “We (Doblo Cargo) have a very good history with What Van?
“Taking back the award was a reason to be proud.”
Patti says Fiat Professional was also celebrating winning the prize outright in 2016 having shared it with the Doblo Cargo-based Vauxhall Combo in 2013 and 2014.
Vauxhall chose not to take the changes that came with Doblo’s facelift, which included Ecojet versions of the 1.3 and 1.6 Multijet diesel engines, improving fuel consumption by 12% to 64mpg and 61mpg respectively, and a revised front end.
Patti claims that since the second generation Doblo Cargo arrived in 2010 it has been widely recognised as the best van in its class in terms of payload (up to one-tonne) load volume (up to 5.0m3 ) and, largely as a result of its ground-breaking bi-link rear suspension, loading height (545mm) and ride quality.
“We call it the ‘van of the records’” Patti says.
He explains that the load box’s square dimension enables full use of the cargo space, including a sector-best width between the wheel arches of 1230mm, which he claims, is particularly attractive to large fleet customers.
Doblo Cargo sales in the UK dropped 27% last year to 5194, according to the SMMT, as the manufacturer made the switch to the facelifted model but Patti is confident volume will bounce back in 2016 to more than 6000 units.
Retail customers with up to 10 vans will buy half of the total with large fleets accounting for 30% and the remainder going to the rental sector, he forecasts.
In the UK the Doblo Cargo’s interior was not refreshed as part of the 2014 facelift, it was not considered financially viable to alter the Fiat’s cab but not the Vauxhall Combo’s, but a new generation van is expected in 2018 when Opel/Vauxhall will piggyback PSA Peugeot/Citroen for its next light van.
Wheels of fortune
Aside from the Doblo Cargo, 2016 is set to be a big year for Fiat Professional with the launch of the Talento, based on the Renault Trafic, having the potential to transform its fortunes in the crucial medium van sector, which accounts for 35% of the market, where the brand has historically underperformed with the Scudo.
Patti says the Talento will provide balance, sitting exactly between the Doblo and Ducato large van in the range whereas the Scudo was too small and did not provide a clear enough distinction from the larger Doblo derivatives.
“The Talento is very strategic for us in the UK,” Patti says, “at the moment we are not playing at our best (in the medium-van sector)”
The Talento goes on sale on 24 June and Patti forecasts sales of up to 1000 during the rest of the year before stepping up business next year.
“We have a ramp up plan for Talento,” he says.
Long term he expects the van to sell in similar numbers to the Doblo Cargo and Ducato, of which Fiat sold 5217 units in 2016.
Fiat Profesional supplies large fleets with the Doblo and Ducato, so Patti expects to interest these customers in the Talento as well.
This year will also see Fiat Professional hit another landmark with the launch of its first pick-up truck, the Fullback – a re-badged Mitsubishi L200.
Patti is confident the debut model will have an impact both in sales terms and in raising the profile of the brand. He describes the Fullback as the “hero” in the line-up and points out the UK is the home to Europe’s largest pick-up market.
Categorising the pick-up segment as a “hybrid” market serving both working and leisure customers, Patti says: “We aim to address both needs.”
First up will be a double-cab aimed at lifestyle buyers predominantly, and Patti claims that following the reveal of the Fullback at the CV Show in April, Fiat has received requests to display the vehicle at other events, such as agricultural shows. A single-cab, utilitarian version of the Fullback will follow next year, according to the manufacturer.
Patti is confident the Fullback will attract customers from sectors such as fishing, land supply and the farming community to Fiat Professional who then also may require a Doblo, Talento or Ducato as well.
In an extremely busy month for Fiat Professional the facelifted Fiorino also goes on sale in June.
Patti admits it has been somewhat overshadowed by the impending arrivals of the higher profile Talento and Fullback.
“In a different year it would have had more exposure, it plays in a small sub-segment.”
In what Patti describes as a “heavy” facelift, the Fiorino will be available with three Euro6 engines: a 1.4-litre 77hp petrol unit and a pair of 1.3 turbo diesels with outputs of 80hp and 95hp.
The EcoJet versions of the diesel engines, which employ fuel-saving technologies such as start/stop, a smart alternator and a variable displacement oil pump, are appearing for the first time on the Fiorino.
The Ecojet achieves a claimed 74.3mpg on the combined cycle with emissions of 100 grams of CO2, a fuel saving of up to 14% compared to the manual transmission without EcoJet.
The refreshed Fiorino also features a new front bumper that fits in with the latest Fiat Professional design language, new 15-inch wheel covers and 15-inch alloy wheels as well as a reworked interior.
Patti claims it is “good news” that the Fiorino-based Citroen Nemo and Peugeot Bipper will not adopt the changes because it results in a unique offering for Fiat’s customers.
Fiat Professional will imminently announce its plans for the Euro6 Ducatto and, although Patti was giving nothing away at the time of writing, there is speculation the brand will follow the route taken by Iveco (part of the Fiat Group) with its Daily van in using both EGR and SCR technology.
“Engines have always been our point of strength and once again we will be the leader,” claims Patti.
In common with many manufacturers, Fiat Professional has established partnerships with other brands in developing its LCV range as a necessity in managing industrial costs. Its five model line-up, consisting of the Nemo, Doblo Cargo, Talento, Ducato and Fullback, will be one of the widest in the marketplace and Patti believes the firm is now in a position to step up a gear in meeting a broader spectrum of customer requirements.