Fiat finds flattery offensive: Fiat sues Great Wall over Panda clone

July 24th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham


If the saying that ‘imitation is the greatest form of flattery’ is true then Fiat should feel very flattered at Great Wall’s homage to the Fiat Panda.

Fiat has won a case in Europe against Chinese automaker Great Wall (who will have cars in New Zealand soon) for copying the Fiat Panda design and selling it as the Great Wall Peri in China and planning to sell it in Europe.

The Turin court ordered Great Wall to pay 15,000 Euros (NZ$32,000) for the first Peri imported, and 50,000 Euros (NZ$105,000) for each unit that Great Wall bring in, effectively ending any chance that a Peri will ever been seen in Europe.

This is not the first time that a Chinese automaker has ‘borrowed’ designs from another company, as Honda had it’s CRV ripped-off and sold in China as something else a few years back. What may seem like a lack of imagination in car design on the part of the Chinese is actually more like the desire for record executives to have have hit after hit by using the same formula.

MINI SUV could be on the shared BMW-Fiat platform

July 22nd, 2008 by Darren Cottingham


News of the MINI SUV said to labeled ‘Crossman’ and to debut at the forthcoming Paris Motorshow could utilise the partnered platform from BMW and Fiat has come to light.

The platform is touted to be under consideration for the new Fiat Punto Grande, the Alfa Romeo MiTo and the MINI Crossman. It has been substantiated that the platform codenamed C-Evo will be used for the new Alfa 147 and could house either FWD and AWD set-ups.

While the look of the MINI Crossman has caused considerable debate, it looks unlikely that BMW won’t produce it. The big MINI is due out in 2015.

BMW and Fiat contemplate getting into bed together

July 10th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham

The BMW Group and Fiat Group Automobiles (FGA) are considering the possibility of co-operation in the areas of components and architectures for their Mini and Alfa Romeo vehicles.

As part of possible cooperation, BMW Group will provide FGA with support in launching the Alfa Romeo brand in the North American market.

A Memorandum of Understanding to this effect has been signed by Friedrich Eichiner, member of the Board of Management of BMW AG responsible for Corporate and Brand Development, and Alfredo Altavilla, Senior Vice President, Business Development, Fiat Group Automobiles and CEO of Fiat Powertrain Technologies.

“We are currently examining with the Fiat Group possibilities for the joint use of components and systems in Mini and Alfa Romeo vehicles in order to achieve economies of scale and thus cost reductions within the framework of our Number ONE strategy”, Eichiner said on Monday in Munich.

Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat Group and Fiat Group Automobiles, said: “The proposed co-operation with BMW is a significant cornerstone of our strategy of alliances. We are delighted to work with such an esteemed and respected partner in the automotive industry with the clear objective of improving the competitive position of both parties.”

The two partners have agreed not to divulge details of the possible collaboration. The results of the cooperation discussions will probably be achieved by the end of the year.

Fiat 500 Abarth Opening Edition

July 9th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham


Fiat has unveiled a new limited edition “500 Abarth Opening Edition” version of the now year-old 500. The ‘Opening Edition’ is distinguished by a 160hp engine, red brake calipers, 17″ alloys in white or titanium finish, tinted glass and a revised interior with red leather and special badging with a serial number plate. Only 100 examples of the 500 Abarth Opening Edition will be manufactured making it a small car for those with a desire for exclusivity.

Fiat Bravo T-Jet 1.4 Petrol 2007 Review

December 5th, 2007 by Darren Cottingham

Fiat Bravo T-Jet 2007 fq

I remember borrowing my friend’s Commodore 64 and marvelling at the superior graphics it produced; superior to my ZX Spectrum 48k. That extra 16kb made all the difference. Now we’re at a point where a whole car can be created in the virtual world — conception through to crash testing without even sharpening a lathe. Fiat’s computer technology enabled its team of engineers to not only simulate every aspect of the Bravo’s structure, dynamic, noise/vibration/harshness and accommodation characteristics in minute detail, but to virtually create a production line to ensure consistency in component and build quality.

If this sounds all very cold to you, those feelings will melt as soon as you see the Bravo. It’s a car that achieves a perfect balance of stylish and sporty both inside and out, and one of the few cars I like the look of from the back.

We’re fortunate in New Zealand that the two launch models (1.4 turbo petrol and 1.9 diesel) get the top ‘Sport’ level of trim and equipment. The seats are supportive, and stylishly trimmed in red; the pedals are slotted aluminium, the deeply recessed dials are sports-inspired with the needles pointing downwards at rest, and the steering wheel and gearshift knob have red leather stitching. In the centre of the instrumentation a red-on-black display shows various functions relating to the radio and trip computer.

Looking around the outside, the first thing I noticed was how clean yet slightly muscular the design of the Bravo looks with its colour-coded bumpers, slightly flared wheel arches, steeply raked windscreen and tapering waistline, set off beautifully by the gunmetal and brushed-aluminium-style 17-inch alloys wrapped in 225/40 profile tyres and concealing red callipers gripping the brake discs. The Bravo is also the first car to wear Fiat’s new logo, designed to evoke the shield that adorned Fiats from 1931-68. It also appears strikingly in the centre of the steering wheel.

Like Volkswagen with its Golf TSi, Fiat has used as 1.4-litre turbocharged engine to give the same power and NVH characteristics you would expect from a 1.8- or 2-litre car, but with 10% or better fuel economy figures.

The Bravo goes further by offering an ‘overboost’ function so you can choose when you need a bit more power. A ‘Sport’ button on the dash raises the torque of the engine from 206Nm to 230Nm, dropping the 0-100kph time from 8.5s to 8.2s. Power output remains the same at 110kW, and you get a manual gearbox to control how much of it you use. Combined with a light clutch, the six-speed ‘box is good, but the throw is long and would benefit from a short-shifter kit. With Sport mode turned off, the Fiat was one litre per 100km more economical on my not-quite-identical test runs, returning 8.2l/100, more than the quoted figure 7.1.

Fiat has achieved a suspension balance that is both sporty and compliant. It is never crashy, nor is it jiggly (these are highly technical terms, of course), and combined with the width of the tyres you would have to be a driving imbecile to come off the road. Even if you do exceed the limits, there’s Electronic Stability Programme, traction control and MSR (motor speed regulator, which ensures you don’t lose grip as a result of changing down too abruptly).  Disc brakes with ABS and electronic brakeforce distribution come as standard.

Ergonomically, all the controls are perfectly positioned, with the exception of a slightly fiddly volume knob (but drivers will most likely use the steering-wheel-mounted buttons to change this.

A testament to how Fiat is targeting the youth market is its inclusion of Blue & Me. This Windows Mobile-based system uses Bluetooth to connect Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones to make and receive calls without operating the handset. All functions can be accessed using buttons from the steering wheel, as long as you’ve synchronised your address book with the car.  It can synchronise with up to five different phones meaning the car can be shared within the family. Blue & Me will also read texts and play back music audio files from a digital device with USB out.

For the money, this is a stylish and practical car with only a few minor flaws. If this is what can happen when computers are employed to simulate every aspect of a car, then I’m all in favour.

Price: from $36,990 (T-Jet as tested); $39,990 (diesel)

What we like

  • Styling
  • Price
  • Performance
  • Large boot for its class

What we don’t like

  • Needs a short-shifter gearshift kit
  • Optimistic fuel economy figures.
  • In-cabin storage is poor, though the drawer under the front seat is welcome.

Words and photos Darren Cottingham

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