Fiat’s travails in India

At a time when the car market is booming, one company that is reporting declining sales is Fiat. Fiat announced today that it plans to create its own retail network to push Fiat cars. Currently, Fiat cars are sold through Tata motors’ dealer network.

Fiat is a well-known brand in India, having been one of the 2 big car brands in India right through the ’60s and ’70s. Fiat cars were manufactured by Premier Automobiles, a Doshi group company. Even after PAL decided to rename Fiat 1100 as Premier Padmini, the man on the street always called the car Fiat.  

Despite this headstart, the history of Fiat in India is one of misses after misses. Post liberalisation, Fiat set up a JV with PAL their earlier partner and launched UNO. It was an unqualified failure. The JV itself had its set of problems.

Then Fiat came on its own and launched Fiat Palio, Siena and Petra. After tasting some initial success with Palio, the sales started declining. Poor after-sales service, low mileage and limited dealer network were some of the reasons cited for this failure. Siena and Petra were bad products.

In 2007, Fiat realising the need for a dealer network signed joint venture deal with Tata Motors. Fiat Automobiles India Ltd is a 50:50 JV between Fiat and Tata Motors. After this deal, Fiat launched some good models and backed it up with a visible marketing campaign. Fiat Grand Punto and Fiat Linea were definitely vast improvement over its earlier products and definitely in consideration for any car purchaser looking for a premium hatchback ( Punto) or a sedan ( Linea).

The journey of Fiat in India is not unlike Yuvraj Singh, its brand ambassador for Linea. Both have been underachievers. The talent is unquestionable, but somehow performance leaves much to be desired. Sometimes it is an injury, some other time it is a relationship issue and indifferent form at times.

Yet, in the April- Sept 2010 period, Fiat has reported a decline in sales when the rest of car market is booming. This must have forced the Italian bosses to look at a new strategy.

From the experience of Fiat and also Mitsubishi, it is pretty evident that having partners like PAL or Hindustan Motors, who had lengthy experience in Indian markets is more of a liability than a strength. Car companies who have come on their own like Hyundai, Honda ( JV with SIEL , a passive partner) and Skoda/Volkswagen have done much better.

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