With its subtle distinctions in body, tail lights and rear hatches, Fiat unveiled the new Bravo/Brava line in Italy last month.
To attract male car buyers, the three-door Bravo boasts a snazzy, sporty look. The five-door Brava, for women bearing family needs in mind, offers more comfort and space.
The car models roll out throughout Europe this month.
Fiat lost a record $1.1 billion in 1993, but now it has one major success story, the two-year-old Punto. Europeans snapped up more than 640,000 units the first year, giving the Punto 18% of Europe's midsize car market and 60% of all Fiat car sales.
Fiat's sales soared 35% in 1994 to $25.9 billion, giving it 11% of Europe's fiercely competitive car market. Sales at the end of the first half of 1995 ran 25% ahead of that period in 1994, said Loic Caperan, Fiat Auto's director of worldwide sales and marketing. "From 1993 to 1995, we gained market share all over," he said.
And after what it hopes will be a success with Bravo/Brava, Fiat next year will market its first world car in developing countries.
Fiat had lost its distinctive Italian appeal, said Mr. Caperan, a former marketing director at rival Renault. "After listening to feedback from customers, dealers and our product development department, we decided to reposition all three [of our] brands-Lancia, Alfa Romeo and Fiat," he said.
To differentiate each car, Fiat compiled a "brand bible" highlighting the features that endeared each model to drivers.
"We wrote nearly 15 pages on the Alfa Romeo engine because that's what is fundamental to the car," Mr. Caperan said.
Fiat is aggressively overhauling its image and product development strategy. Paolo Cantarella, Fiat Auto's president and CEO, is engineering the company's renaissance with a five-year, $25 billion investment in factories, new models and revamped sales channels.
To enhance car buyers' loyalty, Fiat allocated $1.2 billion to improve customer relations. It streamlined its Italian roster of dealers and now sends them surveys for a quarterly customer satisfaction report. Dealers are eligible for yearend bonuses.
A series of new sales agreements guarantees consumers repair service and prohibits price hikes after a car is ordered.
In another initiative, Fiat's Marketing Institute trains dealers, many of whom had become complacent in the 1980s boom when car buyers outnumbered cars for sale. The Institute's recent program for the Bravo/Brava trained 50,000, from mechanics to Mr. Caperan himself.
Fiat centralized worldwide advertising in 1991 at its headquarters, where each of its seven agencies has an office to serve the automaker.
"Before this move, each market developed ads locally," Mr. Caperan said. "Now each agency submits campaigns [for the products it handles] created throughout its global network, and we choose the best one for the international campaign."
Marketing and advertising work in concert at Fiat. Mr. Cantarella chairs weekly meetings of the advertising strategy committee, with Mr. Caperan, Advertising Director Vittorio Rava and product development managers.
Ads highlight Fiat's strengths. Simple backdrops have replaced the lavish scenery of past ads, filmed in Arizona's desert or Italy's mountains. Concise and blunt, Punto's first ad, by Leo Burnett Co., Milan, positioned the car as, simply, "the answer."
The Bravo/Brava models were introduced during a 12-day blitz, drawing 3 million Italians to showrooms in the first weekend.
"We spent eight months selecting the campaign for the Bravo," Mr. Caperan said. The $62 million pan-European TV and print campaign by Barbella Gagliari Saffirio, Milan, features two young Internet surfers stumbling upon a Bravo/Brava page. A voice-over says, "The choice," a theme echoing the print ads.
With the Bravo/Brava introduction, computer users can access information on the new car on the Internet (http://www.its.it/Fiat-Bravo-Brava/). The World Wide Web site includes 200 pages of text, technical drawings and photos and an e-mail service for communication with Fiat Auto.
Fiat plans in 1996 to introduce a world car, the 178, in Brazil and Argentina. Mexico, India and China, markets Fiat sees as key to its success, will follow.
"Fiat has designed a car to withstand the rough and variable infrastructures of these countries," said Alessio Fronzoni, chairman of Leo Burnett Italy, Milan. Already a major player in developing markets, Fiat flopped in the U.S., like many rival European car marketers.
"Our absence in the U.S. doesn't undermine our role as an important global car company," said Richard Gadeselli, VP-international media relations.
Headquarters: Turin, Italy.
1994 sales: $25.9 billion; 2,084,000 cars.
Leadership: Giorgio Garuzzo, chairman; Paolo Cantarella, president-CEO; Loic Caperan, director of sales and marketing worldwide; Vittorio Rava, director of advertising.
Ad agencies: Leo Burnett, D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Conquest Europe, Armando Testa, Barbella Gagliardi Saffirio, SCS Integrated Communications, Grey Direct.
Worldwide ad spending: $617 million.
Recent successes: Boosted car sales 35% in 1994. Returned to profit from $1.1 billion loss in 1993. Fiat's Punto one of Europe's best-selling cars, with 18% share of midsize market.
Challenges: Start marketing the 178 model world car in developing countries in 1996. Slash new-product development time from 32 months to 24. Raise proportion of total sales outside Italy from 60% to 70%.
Sources: AAI and company reports