MARKETING SUPERSTARS;FIAT PUNTO;PAOLO CANTARELLA

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TURIN, Italy-Paolo Cantarella has harbored a lifelong passion for building cars. Known here as the "father of the Punto," the president-CEO of Fiat Auto used the Punto line introduction in November 1993 to unveil a revamped Fiat car company and its return to profit and stylish design after a bad slump.

The moderately priced compact Punto for the U.K., Spain, Germany, France and Italy was the first new model off the assembly line in Mr. Cantarella's ambitious five-year, $25 billion restructuring plan.

With unit sales of more than 640,000 in its first year-and hitting 1 million in July-the Punto helped turn around Fiat sales and profits. In 1994, Fiat's sales rose by 35% and the company returned to profit after a $1.1 billion loss in 1993. The Punto now accounts for 60% of all Fiat's car sales.

Among other awards, the Punto was named 1995 Car of the Year by a jury of 56 leading European automobile journalists for its design, comfort, safety, performance and price.

"The Punto was not only a revolutionary car; it signaled the turning point for the whole company," Mr. Cantarella, 50, said at a press conference in August. "And we summed this up in our [ad] slogan: `Fiat presents the new Fiat."'

The former mechanical engineer applied an Italian flair for style to create an attractive, well-designed car.

Color was made one of the Punto's dominant features and a strong selling point, with models available in 16 colors varying in brightness and intensity. Careful research found English car buyers like red best, Germans prefer black, and Italians metallic blue.

Mr. Cantarella, who chairs the weekly meetings of Fiat's advertising strategy committee, was deeply involved in the Punto's $68 million European introduction campaign by Leo Burnett, Milan, to the point of recommending particular pictures for the print ads.

He also helped design a print campaign featuring Fiat employees to emphasize the role of teamwork in the Punto's success.

In a new ad style for Fiat, the Punto campaign made the car the star of TV and print ads relating the model's qualities of space, safety, speed and attractiveness to the driver's needs. Previous ads were flashier, focusing on exotic locations as backdrops.

With 70 different versions of the Punto offering a wide range of features such as six speeds, convertible tops and various engine sizes, Fiat's latest Punto campaign is built around the slogan "Bigger than your desires."

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