Fiat Professional’s light van triumphed once more at the What Van? Awards helping the brand to build a solid base in the UK market, reports James Dallas.
In an overall light commercial vehicle market that declined last year, Fiat Professional steered a steady course by increasing its sales by 6.5% to 10,844 units, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
This gave the brand a market share of 3% and consolidated its position as the ninth biggest-selling manufacturer in the UK.
Fiat Professional has now developed its most comprehensive model range, with contenders in all the main market sectors, but the member of its line-up that has most consistently impressed What Van? is the Doblo Cargo, which at the What Van? Awards 2018 was crowned the Light Van of the Year for the third year in a row.
The Doblo Cargo boasts first-rate handling and comfort, largely thanks to its unique-in-class bi-link independent rear suspension, and bulletproof build quality that has stood the test of time – it received a makeover in 2015 when it became the first model in the line-up to wear the Fiat Professional badge.
Customers are offered plenty of choice. The range features two roof heights and two wheelbase lengths, delivering load area volumes of 3.4m3, 4.0m3, 4.2m3 and 5.0m3.
Gross payload capacities extend from 750kg to 1,005kg. A dropside pick-up derivative, called the Work Up, is also available.
Three impressive Multijet II Euro6 diesels are available with the Doblo. The 1.3-litre produces 95hp while the 1.6-litre cranks out 105hp or 120hp. A 95hp 1.4-litre petrol power plant is also offered and may become more appealing to operators as anti-diesel sentiment grows.
Richard Chamberlain, Fiat Professional’s UK boss, acknowledges the boost the Doblo’s continuing success at the awards gives the van and the people behind it.
“It can only benefit the Doblo Cargo. It’s important to get recognition in the industry,” he says. “It recognises the product’s capabilities and is motivational for the team.”
Chamberlain could not reveal when a new-generation Doblo Cargo would arrive but insists the current model remains ahead of the game in terms of its load-carrying ability, even if the level of technology installed in new vans has inevitably moved on since its launch.
He claims the only way customers can find an alternative to match the Doblo Cargo’s maximum payload and load volume offerings is by moving up to a medium van, which means paying more money.
Chamberlain adds that as a light van the Doblo Cargo also offers a lower ride height and better fuel economy than models in the class above.
While he acknowledges that within the Fiat Professional range there is some overlap between the Doblo Cargo and the Talento medium van, which is built on the Renault Trafic platform, he insists that this is worth it in order to provide customers with more choice.
The Doblo Cargo currently shares its facility in Tofas, Turkey, with the Vauxhall/Opel Combo, but this arrangement will come to an end within a year, with the next-generation Combo to share a platform with PSA’s light vans – the Citroen Berlingo and Peugeot Partner.
Chamberlain claims Fiat does not necessarily need to replace the Combo on the assembly line.
“The Doblo is produced in a flexible facility in Turkey. When we lose the Combo we don’t need another partner from a production perspective.”
The Talento represents a big step up for Fiat Professional in the mid-sized van segment in terms of quality and practicality compared to its predecessor, the Scudo, but it faces stiff competition in the most fiercely contested sector of the market. Chamberlain claims that while the van enabled Fiat to fill a gap in a key market, its aspirations for the model are modest.
“We never set out to dominate the market,” he says. “It’s important to offer a capability but we don’t want to over-extend ourselves with volume.”
Chamberlain claims that, as the newest of the products based on the Renault Trafic (it came to market in mid-2016), customers say it “looks better than its sister vehicles – less dated”.
The Fiorino, a previous winner of the Small Van of the Year Award, was Highly Commended this time. It sits in a niche sector – as a compact cubed van in the UK it has only the Ford Transit Courier for company as a truly like-for-like rival, with the Fiorino-based Citroen Nemo and Peugeot Bipper having departed the scene and the Vauxhall Corsavan being a different proposition as the last car-derived van still standing.