FIAT chartered two aircraft, one from Manchester, the other from Gatwick, to take 220 guests to Rome to drive the all-new Bravo.
The guests were mainly dealers, but some fleet, leasing and end-users were among the contingent. We went to a conference, along with 1,800 other people from around the world, hosted by Luca De Meo, CEO of Fiat Automobiles, who told us that Fiat Group would introduce 23 new models and have 23 model upgrades by 2010.
We drove the Bravo for around 40 miles on a long straight road, with not a bend or roundabout to be found anywhere, so testing the handling was impossible.
I asked Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat Group Automobiles, if any parts or platform had been used from the Stilo – a touchy subject, it would appear. Reading between the lines, and his answer, there may well be some carryover bits and pieces.
He also told me that mentioning Stilo and Bravo in the same breath was rubbing salt into the wound. Bravo, like the Grande Punto, was a new beginning for Fiat and it wants to keep the past well away from the future.
Fiat is a fast-changing company, with huge improvements being achieved in terms of finance and product. Many dealers on the event told me that reliability was now good, with very few failures.
Fiat UK is also getting more dedicated people into fleet nominated dealers and investing in fleet programmes and training. It has a strong fleet call centre and is determined to be a major fleet player in the future, offering modern, reliable cars that are competitive and accessible, with realistic and competitive wholelife costs.
WENT with some key fleet people to Seville to see the new Mercedes-Benz C-class.
We were tagged on to a European dealer training event, so it was aimed at salespeople and technicians, but we didn’t care as we got to see the car early. This car is important for Mercedes-Benz as it is its big fleet contender so it has to be right – and right it most certainly is.
The range has been cut down to three models – SE, Elegance and Sport. Avantgarde has disappeared as nobody really understood this model and Sport makes more sense.
The C-class is on sale from June 14 and Mercedes-Benz winner is on to a winner with this one. But don’t take my word for it – here are comments from some of the invited guests.
Andrew Mee, from Lloyds TSB autolease, said ‘The styling of the C-class Sport is a true return to the heritage of Mercedes-Benz.’
Andrew Petty of Arval added: ‘The interior is airy and spacious, with a quality feel. Overall, it is a highly credible challenger.’
Liz Clarke, from Inchcape, summed it up simply as: ‘Pure Class with a capital C.’
Sue King, national leasing manager for Mercedes Car Group and responsible for organising the trip, said:
‘This was a great opportunity for the leasing industry, wholelife cost providers and key customers to see this very important car at such an early stage.
‘We are delighted with the positive reaction over the two days.’