The Italian brand has struggled to replicate its small van success further up the weight scale but now has a strong and frugal contender, James Dallas reports
Fiat Professional believes the recognition its large Ducato van will get from being Highly Commended in the Green category at the What Van? Awards will help the model take another step towards increasing its UK market share.
UK boss Sebastiano Fedrigo says the accolade was a welcome surprise and provided some consolation for the Fiat Doblo Cargo – a serial winner of the Light Van Award – finally being knocked off its perch by the Ford Transit Connect.
“The Ducato has a 6.3% [large van sector] share in the UK, its highest ever, but it’s far away from where we want to be,” says Fedrigo.
Across continental Europe the van’s sector share is almost 21% and Fedrigo says the aim is to hit double digits in the UK within three years.
He feels the brand can achieve this through increasing the Ducato’s clout in the corporate market, claiming it is already punching its weight with retail customers and SMEs.
Fedrigo says Fiat Professional will highlight the strengths of the big van’s 2.3-litre Multijet 11 engines in terms of their economy and SMR advantages.
The Ducato shares its platform at Fiat’s Sevel Sud plant in Italy with the Citroen Relay and Peugeot Boxer but the PSA brands use their own 2.2-litre diesel engine range.
The most efficient Fiat models – the 2.3 MultiJet II 130, which produces 130hp and 320Nm, and the 2.3 litre MultiJet II 150, with 150hp and 350 Nm, both return an official 164g/km and 45.6 mpg on short-wheelbase low-roofed models when equipped with optional Start&Stop.
By way of comparison PSA quotes 42.8mpg and CO2 of 175g/km for its greenest engine, the 130hp unit with stop/start.
Fedrigo say’s What Van?’s recognition of the Ducato’s green credentials is a “great accolade because economy is becoming a more important fleet objective”.
He adds: “Fiat is known to be able to produce drivelines that deliver fuel savings.”
In terms of sales however, the Ducato lags behind its PSA rivals with the Boxer the third and the Relay the fifth biggest selling large vans in 2014, according to the SMMT. Both were also in the top 25 best selling vans overall whereas Fiat’s only representative was the Doblo Cargo light van.
Fedrigo says one reason for the Ducato’s comparitive low volume in the UK is that the heavy van sector, in contrast to elsewhere in Europe, is skewed towards robust rear-wheel drive models, such as the Mercedes Sprinter, Ford Transit variants and Iveco Daily.
Therefore he says Fiat needs to promote the virtues of its beefed up Maxi Ducatos, which feature reinforced chassis and suspensions. With Traction Plus, Fedrigo claims the front-wheel drive Ducato can hold its own in such company and rival 4x4s in rougher terrains. He also draws attention to the Maxi vans’ 3.0-tonne towing capacity and 2.0-tonne payload and insists the brand’s 73-strong retail network has the right balance between HGV and passenger car sites to act as a springboard for the Ducato in the market.
Fiat Professional may have built its success in the UK market on the back of its smaller vans – particularly the Doblo Cargo, but Fedrigo stresses: “It’s not true anymore that Fiat is a small van brand. We are seeing more and more Ducatos on the ground.”
Fiat is a strong player in the motorhome sector, which Fedrigo claims is an endorsement of the payload capacities, performance and driveability of its large vans.
The manufacturer is in the process of rebranding its LCV line-up with the Fiat Professional badge, to promote the exclusively commercial vehicle division it established in 2007. The Ducato will get the new logo in June of this year.
Fiat Professional also picked up the Highly Commended prize in the Website category.
Its site was the most improved by some distance – leaping from seventh position in the 2014 table – and won plaudits for its style, user-friendliness and an app that provides useful brand information and reminders of service and insurance dates.
“We’re really proud of what the team’s done,” says Fedrigo, “we’re using digital [outlets] as a platform to conquest customers.”
He claims 70% of customer leads for the Ducato are now generated online.
“The virtual showroom is as important as the physical showroom,” he says and adds that the brand is working on more closely coordinating its online image with that of its dealer network by the end of the year to achieve “ a consistency of message”.