After the Fiat 500L launch in 2012, the brand has focused on 3 main products: the Panda, the 500 and the 500L. In 2014 they accounted for 56% of the group’s sales, and 74% of the brand’s registrations in Europe. The top seller is the 500, which is also the most international Fiat in Europe. Then comes the Panda, which relies more on Italian market, whereas the 500L is Europe’s best-selling B-MPV, yet its sales took place mostly in Italy. Fortunately the 3 of them continue to be very popular in Italy allowing Fiat to keep its dominant position at the same time the Punto gets old and falls in the ranking. The truth is that Fiat brand now depends more on 3 nameplates that make part of 2 segments that posted a negative growth during 2014 and that counted for only 12,7% of European passenger cars. The brand’s presence in upper segments and SUVs (the 500X is expected to change this) is almost zero, with a Croma that disappeared in 2010, and an old Bravo that died this year. The same seems to happen to the Punto, which this year will turn 10 years old.
The Fiat 500 will get an update version in the second half of this year. The refreshed city-car, which will be officially revealed on July 4th, will incorporate a better infotainment system (quite similar to the 500X’s), better ergonomics and some minor changes in the exterior. This top-seller will turn 8 years by that time and it must get some improvements if it wants to continue to lead the A-Segment. Based on the current car life cycles, this restyling should had arrived before. But the popular 500 has proven that it can resist the time and the new competitors, and that a good marketing and communication campaigns, along with continuous tiny updates (colors, trims, versions) can work. However the other 2 popular Fiats, the Panda and the 500L, lack of that vantage and they aren’t ageless. The Fiat Panda isn’t an icon, doesn’t have a unique identity and isn’t chic. The Fiat 500L isn’t the prettiest car and makes part of a bearish segment. They need a restyling right now!
Unfortunately there is no evidence that Fiat is working on the launch of an updated Panda or 500L, at least in the short-term. It seems that both models will have to wait till 2016 or maybe 2017 for this. Timing has changed in the car industry. Nowadays new cars get old quicker and carmakers work on more updates during the life cycle. The Panda was launched in late 2011 and since then most of all of its competitors have been renewed with all-new generations: the C1/108/Aygo (2014), the Twingo (2014), Smart Forfour (2014), the Opel Karl (2015), Hyundai i10 (2013) and the Suzuki Celerio (2014). In other words the Fiat Panda is along with the VW Up!, Skoda Citigo and Seat Mii, the eldest model of European A-Segment. Its age is quite visible in its infotainment system, which can be an important decision-making issue in this segment. If the Panda isn’t refreshed soon, its demand will be severely affected.
There are different reasons for asking for an immediate restyling in the case of the Fiat 500L. Contrary to the Panda’s situation, most of the 500L rivals aren’t younger than the Fiat. From the European top-10 B-MPVs, only the Nissan Note and Dacia Lodgy arrived in the market after 2012, when the Fiat 500L was launched. The problem with the Fiat 500L isn’t its rivals but its segment: Europeans are not buying as many MPVs as some years ago. The rise of the SUVs demand means the decline of MPVs as seen in recent years figures. In 2014, all SUV segments sales increased 22% whereas Minivans demand fell 0,5%. Of course there has been also a negative effect on other segments, such as the D and E. But looking at the split by sub-segment, it is clear that small SUVs (B-SUV) is getting share from the B-MPVs, while upper segment SUVs do the same to larger minivans. The reason for this shift in demand is explained by the consumers’ needs and preferences. Most of the small SUV buyers are looking for comfort, roominess and a nice look. Normally the MPVs offer the 2 first features, but not the second one. SUVs have the 3 of them. Given this context, Fiat should keep its pole position within the B-MPV segment by updating the 500L and prevent a sales drop with the arrival of the Fiat 500X. A revised version of the Panda and 500L should arrive more sooner than later.