Fiat Professional

Date: Thursday, November 15, 2007

Steve Banner paid a visit to Slough to meet with Gerry Clarke, newly appointed director of Fiat Professional (the new name for Fiat's light commercial operation) in the UK.


Fiat's new Fiorino van slots neatly between Grande Punto Van and Doblò Cargo. Built in Turkey, it's the result of a joint venture between the Italian giant, local manufacturer Tofas, and PSA, Peugeot and Citroën's parent. Peugeot's version is called the Bipper while Citroën's is known as the Nemo. So when will Fiorino go on sale in the UK?

At present we expect to launch it in May/June 2008. It will be on sale in Continental Europe from next January and in Italy from December of this year. In Britain we'll be launching it as a van and as a Combi, with a passenger car Panorama version to follow next September/October. They will all feature our 1.3-litre Multijet diesel engine — probably solely at 75hp, although we still have to make a final decision — and service intervals will be set at 30,000km. A petrol engine is available and we may offer it in Panorama, but we probably won't offer it in the van in the UK.


Are you concerned that Fiorino will steal sales from Grande Punto Van on the one hand and Doblò Cargo on the other?

I'm not worried in the slightest about the former because it's such a different proposition. It's clearly a small car-derived van rather than a pure commercial vehicle like Fiorino. Fiorino may have some effect on Doblò Cargo sales, but remember that it has a smaller load area — 2.5m3 as standard as opposed to from 3.2m3 to 3.8m3 with the high roof — and at 650kg, a lower maximum payload capacity. Our feeling is that Fiorino is an extra offering that will bring us incremental business and help us increase our share of the IB segment (the light van market in which models like Doblò Cargo, Citroën's Berlingo and Peugeot's Partner currently compete - SB) by around 1.5 per cent. We're running at around 6.5 per cent now and I would like to think that we could get at least eight per cent of the segment.


Who will buy Fiorino?

We've already had interest from a number of fairly major fleet operators that don't need the load space something the size of a Doblò Cargo offers but require the flexibility of a true commercial vehicle. I'm thinking about the sort of companies that employ mobile engineers to repair white domestic goods; dishwashers, washing machines and so on. They're people who need room to carry a certain amount of tools and parts with them but don't need to transport anything bulky. Parcel companies that need to deliver to places where access is restricted may be interested too, and it's worth noting that Fiorino can be driven into most underground car parks.


How many Doblò Cargo vans will you sell this year?

In the region of 3,600 compared with some 3,150 in 2006. We've been helped by the growing amount of fleet interest in the product. We've supplied 350 to the Royal Mail so far and we've held discussions with them about future sales. As yet they haven't committed themselves but we're still very much on their list. They tell us they're happy with the vehicle.


Why is it impossible to order Doblò Cargo solely with a sliding nearside door? Why is it only sold with either no sliding side doors or a sliding door on both sides?

One reason is that so many of our customers who ask for sliding doors want them on both sides because of the flexibility such an arrangement provides. It allows them to load and unload either side of the vehicle. The sales split between no side doors and two side doors is roughly 50/50 so the latter is a well-supported option.


What's demand like for the high roof version?

Many of them are sold in Combi guise for use by people who want to transport passengers in wheelchairs. It's not a big seller purely in van guise.


You launched the latest Scudo back in February. How well has it been received?

This year we should sell 3,700 to 3,800. It gives us the chance to talk to clients that we wouldn't have spoken to before because it covers a much wider area of the market than the old model thanks to the different engine sizes, wheelbases and roof heights that are available. The only similarity it has to its predecessor is the name and I would like to think that we will sell over 5,000 next year.


Which derivative is proving to be the most popular?

The entry level 1.6-litre van. It's taking around 35 to 38 per cent of sales. One thing that self-employed tradesmen like about it in particular is its attractive styling and the fact that it can be ordered in such a wide range of different colours. Metallic colours are proving particularly popular.


Are you seeing more and more operators selecting options such as air-conditioning and satellite navigation?

There's certainly a move in favour of better-equipped vehicles. There's a good uptake of our Bluetooth hands-free option for mobile phones on models where we have it available, air-conditioning is becoming more important and quite a proportion of our bigger vans are being specified with rear parking sensors and rear view cameras.


What's the situation with ABS across the range?

By mid-2008 it should be standard on all of our light commercials.


How about Electronic Stability Programme (ESP)?

We are not looking to make it standard at present although it is available on certain Ducato models as an option.


How successful is the latest Ducato proving to be?

It's still our mainstay in the UK and I think it always will be. To the end of August it was taking a six per cent share of its sector of the market, and growing, up from 5.3 per cent the year before. So its acceptance is quite good and what's particularly pleasing is that a growing percentage of our registrations are in the bigger cargo volume/higher payload capacity categories. We'll sell about 7,800 Ducatos this year.


What's happening with Ducato chassis cab sales? Will you emulate some of your rivals by offering ready-to-go-to-work tippers, dropsides and Lutons?

We've yet to exploit chassis cab's full potential. I think it can make up 20 per cent of Ducato's total volume, but we're not there yet. Although we have a number of agreements with bodybuilders and can source a dropside body from the factory, we do not at present have a ready-to-run programme. However, we will introduce the elements of such a programme throughout 2008. We're also looking at some interesting van-based crew cab conversions. A Ducato-based crew cab van conversion sourced from Snoeks was on our stand at the British Commercial Vehicle Show earlier this year.


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