Formula Fiat

A new importer, improved distribution, and a stronger resolve, may turn the fortunes of Fiat Group in Australia

If you thought Fiat was just a quirky Italian carmaker that specialised in making small and funky town cars then it might be timely to review your opinion.

When we mention the Fiat Group, we are now talking about a vehicle manufacturing conglomerate that encompasses Alfa Romeo, Fiat cars, the Fiat commercial vehicle division marketed as Fiat Professional, Jeep, Chrysler, Dodge, Lancia, and Iveco light commercials and trucks. For its flagship brands, the group also includes Maserati and Ferrari.

The supply of engines for the Group is handled mainly by the Fiat Powertrain division and technology by Magneti Marelli. The Teksid division is the largest producer of grey and nodular iron castings for use in engine blocks and cylinder heads, while a further division operating under the Comau brand name is the supplier of “machines that make machines” – such as robotic welders and vehicle assembly equipment.CARS_VANS_Fiat-Ducato_1

The financial results also indicate the extent of the group’s activities, showing revenues of 21.5 billion Euros in the last year, from which it procured a net profit of 358 million Euros.

Having now established the breadth of the Fiat Group business, we’ll now look at how its presence in the Australian market has changed in recent months.

As part of a major restructuring throughout its global operations, Fiat Group has now taken over the responsibility of distributing its Fiat, Chrysler, Alfa Romeo and Jeep brands in Australia, ending a long standing agreement with independent distributor, Ateco Automotive.

Fiat calls its commercial vehicle division Fiat Professional, and although Iveco is also part of the Fiat Group, in Australia Iveco will remain a stand alone, separate operation. It’s almost as though Fiat Professional has a gentleman’s agreement with its fellow Italian relation not to impinge too much on each other’s product ranges.

With the restructuring of Fiat in Australia comes a greater commitment to gain market share, backed by serious investment. The existing dealer groups will largely continue unchanged, but additional dealers will be welcomed into the fold to improve reach and sales ability to a greater audience.

Expect to see an increased range with the future inclusion of the Doblo, a small van to rival the likes of the VW Caddy and an instrumental part of the Fiat plan to grow its range and, subsequently, its market share.

The Scudo sits happily in the one-tonne van sector, and there’s been little change in its latest specification. What has changed, though, is the Ducato range of medium to large vans.

Fiat’s Ducato stays under the 4.5 tonnes GVM sector, and IVECO’s Daily range extends way past that level and into the light rigid sector. There’s also a major difference in drivetrain, with Fiat staying with front-wheel-drive and Iveco staying with rear-wheel-drive. At the same time, Iveco incorporates a full chassis, the only manufacturer in this category to offer an alternative to monocoque construction. CARS_VANS_Fiat-Ducato_4

The Ducato is built in the Sevel plant in Val di Sangro between Atessa and Paglieta in the Italian province of Chieti. It’s the largest commercial vehicle factory in Europe, covering an area of more than 1.2 million square metres. The bodywork part of the plant creates 300 different types of chassis; paintwork uses around 120 colours; while the assembly line produces more than 6000 different variations.

This year sees a new range of engines called MultiJet II, all of which meet Euro V emissions standards and offer fuel economy improvements of up to 15 percent.

The new engines now use a different fuel system with faster reacting injectors that can carry out multiple injections close together. More specifically, it can perform a main modulated fuel injection in separate phases and bring forward subsequent injections.

The MultiJet II can manage eight injections per firing cycle, thanks to the new servo valve with balanced shutter, which offers more speed, flexibility and precision in the various stages of operation. With simpler construction, there’s also a 40 percent reduction in components.

As a pioneer of common-rail fuel injection systems, Fiat has raised its injection pressures from the 1,600-bar used in the first-generation MultiJet system, up to 1,800-bar for the MultiJet II. Also new is rate-shaping injection, which involves two consecutive injections so close together that there is a continuous and modulated flow of fuel into the cylinders. This allows improved combustion with less noise and lower particulate and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions.

All engines for the 2012 Ducato have four in-line cylinders, with four valves per cylinder and a double overhead camshaft. The cylinder head of the engines is made from aluminium alloy, while the block is made from cast iron. The pistons have a cooling tunnel, and the geometry of the intake and exhaust pipes has been optimised. All the engines have an exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) cooler, which is controlled directly by the engine control unit.

If you happen to operate your vans in extremely low temperatures, here’s one design inclusion that makes a lot of sense. In order to ensure a quick start from cold, the electric fuel supply pump is inside the fuel tank and incorporates a self-priming function in the event of running out of fuel. The diesel filter also acts as a water separator. Cold starts are handled by glow plugs in the combustion chambers.CARS_VANS_Fiat-Ducato_1

Moving to Euro V for the 2.3-litre MultiJet II has brought a nine percent reduction in emissions and consumption, with a power improvement of eight percent to reach 96 kW at 3,600 rpm. Maximum torque of 320 Nm is rated at 1,800 rpm.

There’s also an alternative MultiJet II engine with a variable geometry turbocharger replacing the standard wastegate controlled turbo of the standard engine. This raises the power output to 109 kW at 3,600 rpm and maximum torque to 350 Nm at 1,500 rpm. When compared with the previous Euro 4 2.3-litre engine, power is up 24 percent and torque is lifted by 9 percent.

The improved consumption and emission figures are in line with the 96 kW engine (respectively 7.1 l/100 km and 186 g/km of CO2), while the performance levels offered explain how it replaces the previous 3.0-litre Euro 4 engine. The power is similar, just 5 percent less, but the capacity is lower, which means a 40 kg weight saving and lower consumption – a drop of 19 percent compared to the old 3.0-litre unit.

In typical Italian fashion, the Fiat engineers call their AMT (Automated Manual Transmission) an MTA (Manual Transmission Automated), just to be different from the rest of the world. Ratio choice is between a six-speed, cable-operated manual gearbox, and the self-shifting MTA version. The manual gearbox is a two-axis gearbox with peak torque of 320 Nm and multi-cone synchronisers in first, second and third gears.

For the Australian market, Fiat is offering the Ducato in a choice of five different body styles, with four vans and a cab-chassis. An additional range of chassis and van variants are also provided direct to the eight Australian motorhome converters.

First up, is the low-roof van with 10 cu.m of cargo volume and a 1,612 kg payload. Adding the mid roof lifts cargo volume to 11.5 cu.m with a payload of 2.009 kg. Third choice is an extended wheelbase version that lifts interior volume to 13 cu.m with a payload of 1,959 kg.

The largest Ducato van is the extra long wheelbase, medium roof, which combines a 15 cu.m interior volume with a 1,914 kg payload. Rounding out the Ducato range for Australia is the medium long wheelbase cab-chassis.CARS_VANS_Fiat-Ducato_6

All versions of the Ducato are fitted with the 96 kW 2.3-litre engine, with the exception of the extra long wheelbase, medium roof, which has the more powerful 109 kW 2.3-litre engine.

A revised interior creates a really well thought out workplace for the driver. There’s a clipboard to stop those important bits of paper getting lost; the central compartment is big enough to store a laptop computer; and it can be locked with a key. The refrigerated compartment will hold a 1.5-litre bottle, and the drinks holder can also be used to take a mobile phone or ashtray.

The door panels have been restyled to bring them in line with the rest of the cabin, but they retain the practical bottle holder and the mid-height pockets for smaller easy-to-lose objects.

The oval instrument panel, now sitting beneath a more pronounced anti-glare hood, has been redesigned to make it even easier to read. And there’s a gear shift indicator to tell drivers the most efficient point to change gear.

Congratulations to Fiat for bringing some colour into the cab, with the seats trimmed in a new red fabric. No more blacks and greys. There’s a choice of two or three seats in the front, and the range of adjustment for the driver should allow for all shapes and sizes to find a comfortable position at the wheel. Additional storage is available under the seats and air conditioning is standard.

Safety is also high on the Ducato agenda, with a full-size two-phase driver’s airbag and front passenger airbag as standard. The ABS anti-lock braking is also standard and works in conjunction with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution. This uses sensors to ensure the braking action is divided over all four wheels, to prevent locking and guarantee maximum stopping power. The braking system has discs all round, ventilated on the front.

Stand by for an upcoming full road test in the very near future.

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