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New model Fiats coming

The iconic Italian brand disappeared from our shores 18 years ago, its cars tainted as unreliable and lacking excitement. But the president of Fiat cars Luca De Meo, who is in Australia this week spearheading the brand's return, has made some bold predictions for its future in Australia.

Mr De Meo says Fiat is treating Australia, thanks to its market diversity, as a test to see if it can succeed in re-establishing itself on the global stage.

He wants Fiat to achieve a 5000 sales target in this country by 2008 and to also become the leader in the diesel passenger car market, overtaking European rivals in Volkswagen, Peugeot and Citroen.

To back that up it has a bevy of new models heading our way to join the existing Punto, including a mid-sized Bravo next year, a born again bambino 500 in 2008 and a mid-sized all-wheel drive five and seven-seater crossover wagon, which will be offered in both diesel and petrol variants, in 2009.

Fiat is still working on what to call the Bravo in Australia and has narowed it down to a short list of three names.

The Bravo name is already owned by Mazda.

De Meo told "We want to be there to be able to compete with the other traditional European manufacturers face-to-face in terms of product image and price positioning, service levels and customer satisfaction.

"We feel we have the opportunity to start from scratch (in Australia) which is a challenge on one side but on the other side it's an opportunity for us.

"We are here to stay a long time. This is an important market as we re-enter the global competition with Fiat.

"We are looking at being a small car specialist and we want to do things the others cannot do. The idea of creating a young dynamic fashionable brand is part of the story.

"You buy an Italian product outside of Italy because it is good looking, fun and reasonably priced. Those three ideas we need to match with our cars.

"I cannot imagine a Fiat in this market which is too similar to midstream models otherwise people would by a Toyota or buy a Holden.

"We need to have some kind of character, a (range of) cars closer to what people expect from an Italian brand."

Keith Didham is a senior roadtester on the CARSguide team and also editor of Mercury CARSguide. A version of this review, as well as other news, reviews and analysis will appear in the Mercury this weekend.