At the 2017 Geneva motor show, the late Sergio Marchionne, in his forthright fashion, told Autocar India: “Fiat has had many chances in India and now it's Jeep’s turn.” The former Fiat-Chrysler boss couldn’t have made it more obvious that he had given up hope for Fiat in India and it was only a matter of time before the company would pull the plug on the Italian brand.
That time has come. Fiat’s current product portfolio, which currently only consists of the Linea and Grande Punto (and the latter's hotter Abarth and crossover derivatives), will not comply with the upcoming stricter safety and emission regulations. There has been minimal investment in both these ageing products, which have been on sale for around a decade. Hence, investing in upgrading the Linea and Grande Punto, which are well beyond their lifecycle and whose combined sales were just 101 units in 12 months (from December 2017-November 2018), would be pointless.
Yet another blow for both these models will be the disappearance of Fiat as a major diesel engine supplier when the BS-VI emission regulations come into effect from April 2020. Fiat’s last remaining customers – Maruti Suzuki and Tata Motors – will by then completely switch over from the ubiquitous 1.3 Multijet diesel, to their own in-house powertrains. Fiat, alone, simply does not have the scale to bear the costs of making its engines BS-VI emission compliant and will have no choice but to axe it.
To revive the Fiat brand would require nothing short of replacing the ageing product line-up with an all-new model range and new engine family. This would require an outlay of at least USD 600 million (around Rs 4,300 crore), and almost nothing by way of return on the investment, given Fiat’s weak position in the market.
So when faced with the same ‘invest or perish’ dilemma as other manufacturers on the eve of this stricter regulatory era, the choice for FCA is pretty straightforward. The Linea and Grande Punto are simply not worth upgrading beyond October 2019, when it becomes mandatory to have crash test compliance. In fact, dealers are being asked by FCA to quickly sell off cars without ABS to beat the April 1, 2019 deadline, after which ABS on all cars becomes compulsory.
Yes, FCA will once and for all shut down the Fiat brand, which has been a household name in India for generations. It’s the end of an era.