But while Fiat says the Panda be a sub-$20,000 proposition, it won’t be chasing bargain prices for the Grande Punto range.
“It’s not so much about slashing prices, it’s more about making our cars very competitive in the market,” Alex Tam, Fiat Chrysler Australia’s Director of Product Strategy, told TMR.
“We think with the Punto, with the prices that we’re going to announce in the second half of this year, hopefully we’re going to surprise some of the consumers out there,” he continued.
“I believe it’s going to be the best-value light car you can find in the marketplace.”
Tam added that the addition of a new product to Fiat’s light-car range (which currently features only the niche 500) would enable the brand to compete more effectively in one of the most sizable - and fiercely contested - vehicle segments.
“The size of the [light car] market is about 130,000-140,000,” Tam said. “It’s a huge market, the second-biggest in Australia, and we see huge opportunities [in this segment].
“We don’t want to be niche anymore, we’re now trying to target not only the die-hard Fiat fans, but the mainstream customer.
“We want to widen the appeal, attract the average mums and dads.”
Fiat will also bring some niche appeal to the Punto range with the addition of the three-door Abarth Punto Evo Supersport, which sports a 1.4 litre turbo petrol engine with 132kW and 272Nm of torque.
“The Abarth Punto will certainly add some excitement to the hot-hatch market, at a very affordable price,” said Tam.
In the fourth quarter of 2013, the Grande Punto will be joined by the Panda, which will initially be offered in 2WD guise only.
The boxy and upright Panda will be a slightly more expensive partner to the Punto, with an emphasis on utility and space.
Pricing has yet to be announced, but TMR believes it will wear a pricetag somewhere in the low $20,000s.
The 4x4 variant of the Panda is also being considered for an Australian launch, and could arrive on our shores near the start of 2014.
“Yes, the [4x4 Panda] is under review at the moment, but there’s no reason why we can’t bring it here,” said Tam to TMR.
“I’d like to get it as soon as I can. If you ask me if I see there is a market, certainly, I think this is one area of the market where no-one has touched on at the moment.
“We’ve got a very capable product, and we’ll be competing in a segment that no one else is currently in.
“Ultimately, the customer will decide if they need a 4x4. Urban owners probably don’t need a 4x4 and will get by with FWD, but maybe they do if they want to put a snowboard in the back of the thing and go to the snow.”
Besides the Suzuki Jimny (which is more of a dedicated off-roader than a proper light car), there are currently no AWD vehicles in the light car segment.
Currently, the cheapest non-offroader AWD vehicle is the Suzuki SX4 AWD hatch, which retails at a starting price of $21,990.
Asked if the Panda 4x4 could become the cheapest AWD five-door in Australia, Tam was optimistic.
“Possibly. I obviously can’t comment on what other companies have planned, but right now there are no competitors, which is good for us,” he said.
“It will carry a very competitive premium [over the 2WD Panda].”
Nissan is also committed to launching the Juke here in 2013, another light SUV available with AWD and likely to carry a sub-$25k sticker price.