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Fiat: Bravo Marks Mid-Size Market Return


Fiat has poured 350 million euros ($454 million) into developing its new Bravo model, which marks the Italian automaker's return to the profitable mid-size market, the company's chief executive said Wednesday.

The Bravo, unveiled Tuesday evening to much fanfare, is the model that Fiat hopes will help solidify the company's turnaround and represent a credible entry into the midsize sedan C class populated by the VW Golf, the Peugeot 7, the GM Astra and Ford Focus.

"Bravo is the car with which Fiat launches its offensive in the C segment," CEO Sergio Marchionne told reporters in Rome. "It's been many, too many years since Fiat has been present in this market segment and now we have a chance to have our revenge."

Bravo is the Fiat brand's only midsize car and analysts say that to secure its recent turnaround the company needs to get a player into that segment, which accounts for more than 20 percent of the European market. Fiat has a target of 120,000 Bravo sales in the next year.

The five-door hatchback is one of 23 new models the company plans to roll out through 2010, including the relaunch of its iconic Fiat 500 compact in September. The Bravo name has been revived from a previous three-door compact, but the model is planned as a stylish replacement for Fiat's disappointing Stilo.

The car is released in Italy this week and across Europe in coming months, with Fiat planning to sell it in 60 countries, including China, by the end of the year. Various versions of the Bravo will be priced between 14,900 euros ($19,200) and 22,800 euros ($29,500).

Fiat rolled out its new model in just 18 months, compared to an industry standard of 36, to capitalize on the momentum from the successful launch in the fall of 2005 of its flagship compact, the Grande Punto.

"Bravo is a beautiful Italian car but this vehicle represents much more: the speed with which Fiat moves today," said Marchionne.

The fast-track development was aided by computer technology, taken from the aeronautics industry, which allows the use of virtual models to conduct crash tests and other analyses instead of constructing costly and time-consuming prototypes, said Harald Wester, Fiat's head of engineering and design.

The new model was unveiled late Tuesday at a lavish party under a candlelit pavilion inside Rome's Stadio dei Marmi, a marble-covered arena that is part of the Foro Italico complex used for the 1960 Summer Olympics.

The extravagant celebrations included a Cirque du Soleil performance, as dark red Bravos sped around the glass pavilion, fireworks went off and dancers wielding lighted torches performed for hundreds of guests.

The once-failing automaking group, which makes cars under the Fiat, Lancia and Alfa Romeo brands as well as trucks and agricultural and construction vehicles, returned to profitability in 2005, thanks to a strategy of target alliance and focus on core business.

Strong sales of the Grande Punto helped push Fiat's fourth quarter trading profit, which accounts for some 80% of group earnings, to 95 million euros ($123 million) from 21 million euros ($27 million) last year.

The company said last week that net profit in the fourth quarter of 2006 was 452 million euros($587 million), up from 38 million euros ($49 million) a year earlier, lifted by one-time asset sales and allowing it to pay a dividend for the first time since 2002.

Fiat shares, which have been gaining in recent weeks on earnings expectations and company news, were unchanged at 16.71 euros ($21.63) in morning trading Wednesday on the Milan stock exchange.