Fiat Auto SA was recently awarded new export markets for right-hand drive vehicles in the southern hemisphere and also launched two new models locally, the Multipla and Doblo.

Fiat Auto SA was recently awarded new export markets for right-hand drive vehicles in the southern hemisphere and also launched two new models locally, the Multipla and Dobló.

The Rosslyn-based company’s newly-arrived chief executive, Giorgio Gorelli (pictured right), announced last week that the Fiat Group had formalised a new export arrangement that would see Fiat Auto SA products being delivered to several southern African nations (such as Namibia and Mozambique), Indonesia and some South American countries.

This is a medium-term project. We must understand the business model," Gorelli said. "This means more potential for Fiat SA."

"Gorelli told that a top official from the Fiat and General Motors joint venture procurement programme was spending a month in South Africa to assess whether this country could supply new components for Fiat's global operations.

“There is a focus on wheels, leather seats and catalytic converters, but other products will also be assessed,” he said. "She (the unnamed official) is almost fully booked for meetings with contacts. We hope to export at the maximum possible level."

Gorelli also echoed the calls being made for a cut in interest rates, which he said would help to stimulate South African car sales, which fell by nine per cent in the year to May.

Meanwhile, Fiat Auto SA has followed up recent additions to its Alfa Romeo range by launching the Multipla, Doblo and - very soon - a budget Palio derivative known as the Go!.

The Multipla is a 1,9-litre turbodiesel MPV, which has been available in Europe since the end of 1998. Its controversial looks have been widely criticised, even by CAR magazine, but we found that Fiat was cleverly using the car’s appearance to attract interest and focus attention on the vehicle's unique and practical interior.

There are six identically-sized seats and all but the driver’s seat can be removed easily to make more space available. The instruments and controls seem to be placed in a haphazard manner on top of a cloth-covered dashboard, but once you start driving everything falls to hand, including the gearlever that sprouts out of a cavity in the dash.

The turbocharged diesel engine is without a doubt the quietest we’ve experienced, and it is no surprise to learn that Fiat was the first company to offer a common-rail diesel engine as early as 1997.

The Dobló is a van with an 800 kg payload, and is of a similar size to the Multipla, but is not quite so wide. It has unequally-sized rear doors, plus a side door, and uses the Multipla engine in naturally aspirated form. The performance is surprisingly sprightly, so that in normal traffic one does not notice the absence of the turbo.

Gorelli told that the Rosslyn-based manufacturer had also decided to launch the Go!, which will retail for R67 900 (as opposed to the current R72 200 entry-level Palio. CARtoday.com will bring you details of the new derivative shortly.

The Multipla 1,9 JTD retails for R209 500 and the Dobló Cargo 1,9 Diesel costs R127 500.