Fiat's planned new low cost car could become a standalone brand, and badged as an Innocenti, suggested Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne, reviving a famous brand name that finally disappeared from the automotive scene just over a decade ago.

A new low cost world car project "is one of the many opportunities that we are evaluating," said Marchionne at the InterAutoNews management awards' ceremony. "If it is decided to make a low cost car, in the true sense of the word, it would not be bad idea to revive the Innocenti brand," he added. The new Fiat low cost car proposal mirrors the concept of Renault's recently-launched Dacia brand, a project which has greatly impressed Marchionne. With Fiat's existing "world car" project, the Palio and its family of derivatives nearing the end of their life a new strategy for this sector in the future is now being put in place.

The possibility of reviving the Innocenti name though has come out of the blue. Starting off making steel tubing in the 1920's, Ferdinand Innocenti developed his company to include machinery, presses, tools and the famous Lambretta scooter alongside the ever important tubing. At the 1960 Turin Motor Show Innocenti finally made the move he had long been planning into car production with the launch of the A40, a licence built Austin A40 saloon, and the 950 Spider, a rebodied Austin-Healey Sprite. Initially the A40 was assembled from complete kits, but gradually the local content increased until only the engines were imported. The 950 Spider meanwhile grew to the Innocenti S with the adoption of a bigger 1100 engine in 1961.

1963 saw Innocenti add the IM3, a lightly modified Morris 1100, 1964 saw the arrival of the simplified I4, whilst the infamous Mini entered production in Italy in 1965. This was later joined by its Cooper and Traveller variants. In 1966 Ferdinand Innocenti passed away and his son, Luigi, took over the reigns. In 1972 the newly formed British Leyland made a successful takeover bid for the automotive part of Innocenti, whilst the remaining parts were sold to other buyers.

Apart from a version of the Allegro (known as the Regent), 1974 saw a more significant new product added to the Innocenti range, the new Bertone-styled Mini. With completely different styling and including a hatchback, the New Mini proved popular. Despite the product, the parent company was doing badly and in 1975 Innocenti was closed and passed to the Italian government, just as BL was renationalised. After much wrangling, De Tomaso emerged the new owner in 1976, and production restarted of now renamed Innocenti Mini de Tomaso.


The Dacia Logan Steppe, a station wagon concept on the Logan theme, was presented at the Geneva Motor Show last year, created by concept car builders DC Design from India.


Innocenti assembled the I4 model (top) a version of the Morris 1100, while the 950 Spyder (above) was a Austin-Healey Sprite restyled by Italian studio Ghia.


The new Fiat low cost car proposal mirrors the concept of Renault's recently-launched Dacia Logan (above), a project which has greatly impressed Marchionne.


Fiat planned new low cost car could become a standalone brand, and badged as an Innocenti, suggested Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne, reviving a famous brand name that disappeared from the automotive scene just over a decade ago.

The early 1980s saw various versions of the Mini introduced, with some success. In 1983 Innocenti produced 22,578 cars. With the continuing poor health of the British engine supplier, De Tomaso looked elsewhere and managed to source a new 1-litre three cylinder engine from Daihatsu as well as a smaller 622 twin and a diesel version of the 1-litre unit. These engines replaced the old British four-cylinder engines across the range, from the 31bhp Mini 650 to the 72bhp Turbo De Tomaso as the sporty model was known. The general cars were called the Minitre. Now Fiat is suggesting that the 87-year-old name will make a comeback.

Fiat's proposed new low-cost car will be closely based on the premise Renault's Romanian-based Dacia project. Marchionne has often stated that he has been impressed by the Dacia programme, saying that it makes a strong 'business model'. The Dacia idea reportedly came to life after a visit by Renault boss Louis Schweitzer to Russia where he saw 6,000 euro Ladas selling in decent numbers but 12,000 euro Renaults failing to shift. After Renault bought out Dacia in 1998 it then re-launched the brand in 1999 by announcing Project X90, a low cost car to sell globally for 5,000 euros, called the Dacia Logan, and which was first introduced, onto the Eastern European markets, in 2004. Based on Renault's B-platform architecture (which underpined the 3rd generation Clio and Modus) the Logan reportedly has 50 percent fewer components than an equivalent sized Renault. Study and simple it has a tough suspension setup and higher ride height to take into account the more rugged terrains it has to deal with; it has few electronic aids, a simple interior, and achieved a 3-star EuroNCAP rating, broadly in line with Renault's objectives.

The Dacia Logan has been widely marketed over the last three years. In Eastern European countries such as Romania, the Ukraine, Hungary Poland, Slovenia, Croatia and the Czech Republic where Renault already has a presence it is marketed under the Dacia brand name. Similarly in the North African and Middle East markets, including Morocco, Egypt, Syria and the Lebanon it is sold as a Dacia. Further a field, in Russia, China, Colombia and Venezula, where Renault is presently uninvolved, it is sold as a Renault Logan, while in India (where it is to be built) it will be sold under the name of Renault's partner, Mahindra. It is also being assembled in Iran and Turkey.

From the start of production in 2004 to the end of last year 426,108 Logans have been built, and its success has also meant it has found an unexpected new audience: in Western Europe, where a higher specification version sells for between 7,000-8,500 euros (compared to the base price of 5,000 euros). Fiat sees this project as an example an believes it can leverage its global reach to build a better and cheaper car. There are also suggestions that the experience of Fiat's Indian partner, Tata Motors, could be utilised and brought into the project.

Related articles

Fiat is set to manufacture Alfa Romeo models in China through a new partnership with Chinese carmaker Chery Automotive, Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne has been quoted today as saying

2007 Interfuture Media/Italiaspeed