Finally some news from Fiat. According to some sources in Serbia, the brand is preparing the launch of two models, which would be produced at the Kragujevac plant. Local news have already started to talk about the plans for this plant, which is 67% owned by FCA and 33% by the Serbian State, and employs around 2.400 people. It is not only an important source of employment but also a key exporter (8% of the country’s total exports).
The product to arrive first is going to be the hybrid version of the Fiat 500L, which is only produced in Serbia for the global markets. This model, which would be called 550L, is expected to be presented in the coming months, possibly in Geneva 2019. It would help both the brand and the model to regain traction. Fiat would finally enter the AFV market, which is growing fast. And the 500L would receive a boost as its current registrations are sinking.
The second model would have to wait more time but it seems to be a key product. The project 601 is a frugal B-SUV that would sit next to the 500X but would become the “Duster” of Fiat. This car, which was anticipated by this website in an article in October 2017, is set to increase the presence of Fiat in the popular B-SUV segment attacking from the bottom. It would arrive in 2019 and would feature everything that the 500X lacks: affordable, bigger and comfortable, just as Dacia does with the Romanian-built Duster.
These products make part of a relaunch plan of FCA’s Serbian operations, which will be presented this week. It aims to increase the production levels of the plant, as it is currently operating at 30-40% of its capacity. During the first six months of this year, Fiat sold around 37.000 units of the 500L and 500L Living, down by 16%. The factory can build up to 186.000 units per year. So far, this plant has survived because of the very cheap workforce, which has a starting gross monthly salary of 350 euro.
However, the plant needs products and the two cars would guarantee its survival in the coming years. The plan targets an annual production of 150.000 units. After five or six years the budget SUV would be replaced by another generation and by that time the 500L would be discontinued. Ford has just done it with its Romanian plant, by replacing the B-Max with the Ecosport. It makes sense except for one thing: in the 5 year plan presented in June, Fiat was supposed to become a semi-premium brand. A Duster by Fiat would go against that plan.