Thursday 12 July 2007

Fiat 500 goes off-road...

Look out, Mini. Fiat is laying plans to mass-market its new 500 baby car with a swarm of derivatives over the next several years — a move that could cement the Nuova Cinquecento's cult-car status. At its launch on July 4, Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne even called the new little car the automotive version of the iPod.

According to various European press reports citing Fiat executives, the company already has approved the introduction this fall of a high-performance Abarth edition of the 500. The 500 Abarth, to be powered by a 135-horsepower turbo 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine, is expected to make its world debut in October at the 2007 Tokyo Auto Show, followed by a European launch in December at the Bologna show.

Fiat also has confirmed plans to launch a 500 convertible next summer, patterned after the old Fiat Jolly series. The company also said it is considering several other variants, including a three-door Giardiniera station wagon in 2009 and a four-wheel-drive crossover model that could use running gear from the Panda 4x4.

Sketches of potential derivatives, drawn by Fiat 500 designer Roberto Giolito and presumably leaked by Fiat, have been making the rounds of automotive Web sites.

The three-door 500 hatchback was formally launched last week in Italy, with a choice of a 69-hp 1.2-liter or 100-hp 1.4-liter gas engine, as well as a 75-hp 1.3-liter diesel.Fiat executives say plans now call for annual production of the car to reach 150,000 units next year, eventually rising to 200,000 a year when additional derivatives hit the market.

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