While he was at the European Road Transport Show in Amsterdam Steve Banner managed to track down some of the top decision-makers in the European light commercial vehicle market.
Franco Miniero, Chief executive officer, Fiat light commercial vehicles
Now operating under the Fiat Professional brand, you've just launched the Fiorino, which slots in below Doblò Cargo, but above the Grande Punto Van. How many do you expect to sell annually?
We should be able to reach at least 40,000 units in 2009.
You're offering it with an automated manual gearbox as an option. How popular do you expect this box to be?
I think volumes will be limited and that it will be fitted to no more than 2,000 Fiorinos a year.
You've exhibited an electric Fiorino developed in conjunction with Italian specialist Micro-Vett. Will a right-hand drive version be available?
Yes. Electric Fiorino can reach a top speed of 85kph (over 50mph) and has a range of over 100 kilometres (upwards of 60 miles). The battery sits in the space normally occupied by the spare wheel so it doesn't intrude into the load area, and because it is lithium-ion you don't lose too much payload capacity. Load space is more important than payload anyway so far as most customers for this type of van are concerned. This isn't our only electric vehicle. We've already got electric versions of the Doblò running in France, Italy, Switzerland and Norway. We've come up with an electric Scudo too and we're considering an electric Ducato.
Would you think about offering your vehicles as diesel/electric hybrids?
At present the price would be so high that it would put a lot of buyers off. We have, however, been busy developing vans that will run on compressed natural gas for customers who need a longer range than an electric van can offer.
How well is the latest Scudo selling?
We sold over 30,000 in the first nine months of this year, up more than 82 per cent on what we achieved with the previous model during the same period in 2006. We should sell 41,000 this year rising to 45,000 to 46,000 in 2008. The 2.0-litre 120hp diesel is proving to be the most popular, which is what we expected.
How successful is the new Ducato proving to be?
It's taking more than 17 per cent of its market across Europe and that figure is higher in some countries. It's achieving 20 per cent penetration in Germany, for example. We should sell more than 140,000 this year and that will be a record.
Over the past few months many customers buying vans of a variety of makes have complained about having to wait too long for delivery. Have long lead times been a problem for you?
Yes and we are still suffering, mainly so far as Doblò and Ducato are concerned. But we are working to bring lead times down.
Do you have any plans to enter the purpose-built pick-up market, possibly in conjunction with Tata?
It's something we're still thinking about, but we haven't reached any conclusions.