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Fiat launches next evolution of Punto

Fiat presented the latest evolution of its flagship Punto model on the decks of Italy's newest aircraft carrier Tuesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Fiat presented the latest evolution of its flagship Punto model on the decks of Italy's newest aircraft carrier Tuesday.

Chrysler and Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne quickly dismissed the idea that the platform would be manufactured in the United States if it migrates to the American carmaker.

Fiat's A, B and C classes — ranging from city cars to compacts — are those bound to be integrated into Chrysler under Fiat management, which took over in June when the Italian automaker took a 20-percent controlling share in the U.S. automaker as it emerged from bankruptcy.

Specifics of the model lineup were being closely guarded before the unveiling of the new five-year business plan for Chrysler in November.

The Punto, launched in 1993, is a mainstay of Fiat's B-class cars, with more than 7 million sold. The new Punto Evo represents advances in styling, which make the car appear bigger than it is and gives a roomier feel inside, while improving performance and lowering fuel consumption.

"If this platform does go to North America, it is highly doubtful it will be manufactured in the U.S. given the size of the segments. But it could come and it would come from one of the global production sites of Fiat," Marchionne said without elaborating. The Grande Punto and the Punto Evo, which goes on sale in October in Italy, are manufactured in one of Fiat's Italian plants.

Marchionne said the engineering capabilities at Chrysler, which have been hit by the bankruptcy, were not an issue in bringing Fiat platforms to North America.

"We are rebuilding it a piece at a time," Marchionne said about the aircraft carrier Cavour, where the Punto Evo was presented.

The Fiat manager also made clear that he is looking to make cars throughout Fiat's alliances that can be sold globally — including a low-cost model that will come out of a joint venture in Serbia.

"Whatever we make in Serbia ... has to be a global car. It could be sold anywhere in the world."

Marchionne has presented the business plan to the Chrysler board and said he will bring it to President Barack Obama's task force by the end of October, in preparation for the unveiling to the markets in November.

"It will guarantee the fact that Chrysler will not only be able to repay all the Treasury advances, and that it will be a profitable organization and one of the survivors in this game going forward," Marchionne said. The company has received about $15.5 billion in U.S. government aid.

"I think you are going to see a full alignment of architecture elements of the two organizations to avoid duplication, and fully exploit both systems. That is what the alliance is designed to do," Marchionne said.

Marchionne said he had "no regrets" about the move to take over Chrysler. At the Frankfurt Auto Show, he told reporters that he had been surprised by how little was in the pipeline at the U.S. automaker when he took over.

"I was a bit disappointed in the amount of depth in the last 24 months. All these things are all remediable. We didn't gamble the house," Marchionne said.

In Italy, Marchionne repeated that dropping incentives that have helped the auto industry transition through the crisis at the end of 2009 would be disastrous for automakers.

"You cannot drop them off at the end of 2009 as if they were cliffhangers," he said. "And if you do, you will just see demand drop of in 2010 and that is just going to have a phenomenal effect on production, and all the associated industries in Europe."