Motoring / Motoring News

Charl Bosch
Online Motoring Reporter
5 minute read
17 Aug 2020
5:16 pm

South America the key to Fiat’s revival? Five models South Africa could do with

Charl Bosch

Forbidden for right-hand-drive, but would Fiat's fortunes have been better with these five in South Africa?

Fiat Toro

The merger between the PSA Group and Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), under the name Stellantis, is set to be completed next year and will the result in the French-Italian/American firm becoming the fourth largest automaker in the world.

As such, its respective brands will include, from the former, Citroën, DS Automobiles, Opel/Vauxhall and Peugeot, and from the latter, Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, the Fiat Professional commercial division, Jeep, Lancia, Maserati, Ram, SRT and the Mopar accessories department.

While the unification will reportedly lead to cost savings of a reported €3.7-billion, but an annual vehicle production of 8.7-million, the eventual impact of the partnership on the various international markets has not yet been determined. Just as uncertain is what it will mean for South Africa where the latter has been facing an uphill battle since ending sales of Dodge and Chrysler in 2017, opting instead to focus on Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Fiat Professional, Jeep and Mopar.

While Opel and Peugeot/Citroën have gone their separate ways in terms of importers and sales despite being from the same stable, FCA South Africa operates as one and experienced a worrying 2019 in which it only managed to move 2 413 vehicles. Of that, the majority or 1 455 were from Fiat with the aging 500 often accounting for the most units sold, the highest being 55 in January. Unexpected record months were October and November with sales of 215 and 564 units, headlined by 164 Tipos and 332 Pandas.

The Fiat brand therefore rates as FCASA’s key, but apart from the outgoing 500 and its hot Abarth 595 offshoot, the range is limited to the 500X, the Tipo and the terminally aged Panda, the Mitsubishi Triton rebadged Fullback and the Doblo as well as the Ducato panel vans. Gone is the Mazda MX-5 based 124 Spider Turin axed at the end of August.

With no new models currently in sight, a bigger slice of the local market pie could reside on its South American division where no less than three to four models occupy the monthly sales figures. Although it is likely that these won’t be coming to South Africa soon on account of being left-hand-drive only, here are five models that could well have appealed to buyers had they been offered on local shores.

Strada

Arguably the likeliest to have find favour is the new Strada that debuted in June. Whereas the previous generation lasted for nearly 24 years, its short run in South Africa saw it having to compete with the Opel/Chevrolet Corsa Utility, Ford Bantam and the Dacia Logan-based, locally built Nissan NP200.

With only the latter left as the sole half-ton pick-up and uncertainty surrounding the still-to-be-seen-in-full new Ford Maverick, the Strada would provide much needed competition in a segment still seen as vital. Available as a single or double cab, the Strada is motivated by its predecessor’s 66kW/123Nm 1.4-litre engine on base models, or the new 1.3 Firefly that makes 80kW/139Nm. The outputs, including those of the other four models mentioned, are claimed when fuelled by ethanol. For now, only a five-speed manual gearbox is fitted as standard.

Argo

Arguably more striking than the Tipo, the Argo made its South American debut three years ago and made headlines back in March when it outsold the segment lower Ford Ka (Figo) in Brazil to place third behind the Hyundai HB20 and the segment dominating Chevrolet Onix – it currently rates as Brazil’s third best-selling hatch.

Aside from the inclusion of an off-road flavoured Trekking model last year, the Argo is motivated by a choice of three engines; a 57kW/107Nm 1.0 Firefly, the same 1.3 Firefly as the Strada and a 104kW/189Nm 1.8 E.torQ Evo. A five-speed manual is standard across the range with the more powerful Firefly getting a five-speed automated manual dubbed Gear Smart Ride or GSR, and the 1.8 a six-speed automatic.

Mobi

Affectively a step-up from the Uno, the Panda-esque Mobi has been on sale since 2016 where it was conceived as a rival for the Volkswagen up!

Updated earlier this year, the Mobi is priced from R $34 990 (R110 516) to R $41 190 (R130 099) without options and is motivated by two 1.0-litre three-cylinder normally aspirated engines; the FIRE unit that punches out 55kW/97Nm and on the top-spec Like only, the Argo’s Firefly.  A five-speed manual gearbox is the sole transmission offered, however, a crossover inspired Way can be had.

Toro

The polarising Toro fits-in above the Strada as Fiat’s flagship pick-up in South America, where it goes directly against the Renault Duster Oroch South Africa will get next year.

Updated in June, the double cab only Toro is motivated by the 104kW/189Nm 1.8 E.torQ engine or the 125kW/350Nm 2.0 Multijet turbodiesel now that the 139kW/244Nm 2.4 Tigershark petrol has been dropped. On the former, a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic gearbox can be had, while the diesel is mated solely to a nine-speed automatic. It does however come as standard with four-wheel-drive across its five trim levels (Endurance, Freedom, Volcano, Ranch and Ultra) whereas the 1.8 is front-wheel-drive only and available in the two former grades solely.

Cronos

Despite the downturn in sedan sales, the segment is still strong in parts of Latin America with the Cronos posting sales in Brazil last year of 24 080, well down on the Onix-derived Chevrolet Prisma’s 73 726, but more than the 21 788 of the Nissan Versa (Almera) and the Honda City’s (Ballade) 14 579.

Essentially a booted version of the Argo, the Cronos boasts the same drivetrain options as the Argo and would have provided competition to not only the Almera and Ballade, but also the Toyota Etios Sedan, Volkswagen Polo Vivo Sedan and the Ford Figo Sedan.

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