Fiat’s Doblo Cargo has now scooped the What Van? Light Van of the Year Award for four consecutive years to confirm its status as the outstanding product in its sector.

For the second year running it shares the honour with the Vauxhall Combo, which is built alongside the Doblo Cargo in Turkey and is effectively a re-badged version of the Fiat van.

Fiat Professional’s UK boss Sebastiano Fedrigo says retaining the award is “proof of the Doblo Cargo’s strength”.

“It has grown tremendously in the sector and is one of the preferred choices in fleet and retail.”

According to Fedrigo the Doblo Cargo now commands 12% of the light van market. The model’s maximum payload of 1000kg has been matched but not exceeded in the sector while the XL’s 5.0m3 load space is unbeaten by any rival.

Fiat is also unique in offering a compact drop-side pick-up version of the Doblo Cargo, the Work-up, which can accommodate three Euro pallets.

“It gives us an edge on the competition, even the newer competition,” Fedrigo says.

With four engines up for grabs too, three diesels (1.3, 1.6 and 2.0-litres) and a 1.4-litre petrol, Fedrigo says Fiat has gone for “multiple choice” in both engines and bodystyles.

The Doblo Cargo and its Combo offspring are still the only vans to come with Fiat’s much-praised bi-link independent rear suspension. The lightweight, compact yet durable system is good news for fuel consumption and payload capacity and enhances ride and handling too. Slim wheel boxes allow for a wider loadspace and because the system is accessible to repair, it also cuts down servicing bills, Fedrigo claims.

“All these features are greatly appreciated by the trade,” he says. “It’s testimony to the whole of Fiat’s commercial vehicle technology, it’s not a cheap solution and is still the best in class four years after launch.”

Fiat expects to sell 9000 Doblo Cargos in the UK in 2014, of which 22% will be XLs.

Out of hours servicing

Fiat Professional is pressing on with its programme to improve its network’s service provisions. The brand has enlisted 17 Iveco and 20 DAF sites so far to provide an HGV level of support to customers. It aims to get 42 truck-based dealerships on board by the end of 2014 but will simultaneously reduce the total network from 118 to 100 sales points, with 150 aftersales garages.

The move to cut numbers will provide “viable territories to the remaining partners”, Fedrigo says and adds that Fiat will axe those not willing to invest in improving their standards.

“We are taking out the dealers whose service is not good.”

Some 40% of the network already offers extended opening hours and Fedrigo vows this will increase to 50% next year.

Heavyweight contender

An ongoing challenge for Fiat is to improve sales of its Ducato large van in the UK, where it underperforms compared to the rest of Europe. Fedrigo reckons that giving the network an

HGV-style emphasis will help to make the Ducato a better proposition for operators because “truck dealers will always have space for big vans”. The introduction of more luxurious Tecnico trim is designed to attract customers from SMEs and making ESP standard across the line-up will also boost its appeal.

The Ducato has a 4% segment share in the UK but, according to Fedrigo, this compares to 20% in France and Germany and a whopping 40% in its home market of Italy.

He says a “rear-wheel drive stigma” is partly to blame for the Ducato’s comparative lack of success in the UK where heavy vans with RWD are considered stronger and better able to cope on gravelly surfaces. But he argues that maintenance costs are higher and payload capacity compromised due to the increased weight of RWD and adds that the option of Traction-Plus on the front-wheel drive Ducato should help to overcome concerns about driving on loose surfaces.

Fedrigo is keen to raise awareness of the Ducato Maxi, which comes in panel van and chassis cab guises. It features

reinforced suspension to give it a payload capacity of up to 1995kg and maximum permitted axle loads of up to 2100kg on the front and up to 2400kg on the rear. As a panel van the Maxi has a top load volume of 17m3.

Fiat is ramping up the number of Ducato demonstrator models it supplies to dealerships to make it easier for operators to try out the van.

“We are doing lots of work in raising awareness with corporate fleets,” Fedrigo says.

Sales drive

Fiat Professional has increased UK sales by more than 50% in 2014, which it says gives it a market share of 5.1%. The brand has a 12% slice of the European market but Fedrigo admits it won’t reach that level here “within the space of a day”.

The current target is to reach 6% with the ultimate goal a double digit stake.

“We want to grow organically, with the (dealer) network and with corporate fleets,” Fedrigo explains. “We don’t want to broker vans to shift metal.”

The brand forecasts total sales of 14000 in 2014, but this figure includes the Scudo Panorama

passenger carrying vehicle and the Ducato chassis cabs that are used for motorhome conversions – a market Fiat dominates with a 32% share. These registrations are not included in the light commercial vehicle sales data gathered by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

Ripe for conversion

Fedrigo does not believe Fiat has fully exploited the conversion market in the UK and says the brand is embarking on partnerships with bodybuilders such as VFS, Trucksmith and Snoeks. He says the blue light sector is within Fiat’s scope and cites Luton bodies and box vans as other target areas.

Fiat provides the vehicle warranty, which the convertor mirrors with the body warranty.

Compact compliment

Fedrigo reckons the demise of car-derived vans like the Vauxhall Astravan and Peugeot 208 van will drive further growth in the compact city van sector where the Fiorino sits alongside the Citroen Nemo and Peugeot Bipper. The potential popularity of these small, high cube vans, which Fedrigo says filled a

space in the market, is illustrated by Ford’s impending entrance into the nascent segment with the Transit Courier. Fedrigo admits the threat of competition from the blue oval

is a worry but is confident the Fiorino’s capabilities will see it hold its own. He describes Ford’s decision to enter the sector as “an endorsement of the Fiorino’s success – a compliment”.

While the versatile Doblo Cargo has the load-lugging ability to cull sales from larger competitors such as the Vauxhall Vivaro and Renault Trafic, Fedrigo admits it has also taken business from Fiat’s own Scudo medium van, which is also sold by Peugeot as the Expert and Citroen as the Dispatch.

The current generation Scudo arrived in 2007 but Fiat has now terminated the joint venture with PSA with a view to taking a new direction when the Euro6 model arrives in 2016.

The award-winning Doblo Cargo has established Fiat Professional as a serious player in the UK’s light commercial vehicle sector and the brand is confident it now has the business model and product strength in depth to move on to the next level.