Little utes have growing appeal
Small-scale pickup trucks are going very well in South America and the European market is about to be tested with the introduction of an innovative Fiat ute.
After several years of success in South America, Italian car maker Fiat is to sell its Brazilian- made Strada pickup truck in export markets, with Italy itself becoming the first to take the vehicle.
So far, Fiat is not looking at other markets, but most pundits say that the Italian market could well be a test window for rural and lifestyle aspirants around the world.
Small trucks like the Strada are very popular in South America, with the General Motors Opel Corsa-based Chevrolet Montana and Peugeot's Hoggar, a ruggedised 206 hatch, going great guns among those who can't justify or afford larger pickups. Both of these are also locally made.
With 127,800 units sold last year, the Strada is Fiat's second- best-selling light commercial worldwide, after its Ducato van.
While mini trucks like the Fiat, Chevrolet and Peugeot cannot take the payload of a full-sized HiLux or Amarok ute, they have proven rugged enough in South America as a handy errand- runner, and appear to have become the transport of choice for businesses like florists, garden centres, wineries and the adventure holiday segment, as well as the farming sector.
As with our own utes in New Zealand, the Strada and its competitors have become a lifestyler's vehicle choice too, with versions created to appeal to the beach and barbecue set.
The Strada's body choices are similar to those of Japanese pickup trucks. There is a single cab model, an extended single cab and a four-seater crew cab.
Each can be specified as a base working model, an upscale trekking version and a loaded adventure version - a lineup of nine different Strada variations with payloads ranging from 630kg to 705kg.
The Strada Adventure is clad with protective plastic panelling and is raised to look like a four- wheel-drive, even though only its front wheels are driven.
The car is capable of some dirt work, however, with chunky 205/65 R15 tyres and a standard electronic differential lock. This E-Lock system is available with lesser models as an option. All Stradas have a common 2718mm wheelbase, although the plastic add-ons make the Adventure longer and wider than its siblings.
The Strada uses the same 1.3-litre, 16-valve, multi-jet turbodiesel, five-speed manual power unit found in Fiat's 500, Panda and Punto models. It's rated at 5.3 litres per 100km and Euro5 for emissions and produces 71 kilowatts, with 200 newton metres of torque available from just 1500rpm.
In Italy, it's expected that the Strada range will be priced from $23,000 to $28,000.
While cars like these aren't on sale here, they could be just what the market needs in this age of smaller carbon footprints.