The Fiat Grande Punto Abarth officially goes on sale this month in Italy, and it will be available in other European markets in the months ahead. Fiat has released a number of new images (52!) showing what has become our absolute favorite hot hatch with Italian style to spare and enough grunt from its 150 HP engine to keep things interesting. The Grande Punto Abarth, however, is just the tip of the iceberg, as Fiat has spun off the Abarth label into its own company that will offer its own line of high performance hardware soon. First up is the Grande Punto Abarth, followed by Grande Punto Abarth SS, the 500 Abarth and 500 Abarth SS, and then we may see the Abarth line expand with its own unique models. In all, four Abarth models are scheduled to be unveiled by the end of 2008. Clearly Fiat's excited, and Europeans should be too. We in the U.S., however, are sulking because the likelihood Fiat will be selling cars in the U.S. anytime soon is nil.
The return of Abarth
A glorious past, a winning idea for the future
A glorious past becomes the present, an all-conquering passion that is as strong today as it ever was: this is the inspiration behind Fiat Group Automobiles' plan to re-launch the Abarth name. Always synonymous with tough, spirited cars, challenges, passion and thrills, Abarth is back with a new range to whet the appetites of all sports car enthusiasts.
The novelty lies in the modern-day interpretation of everything that Abarth used to do in the past - starting with motor-racing, followed by prototypes and vehicle conversion kits, and even fashion accessories representing the Abarth style. An expression of the ultimate racing lifestyle, the new company will be active on several fronts: firstly, in the world of motorsport, an environment strictly related to competition, one-make trophies and cars prepared for private customers. Second, the commercial environment, including tuning – hence the production of conversion kits – not forgetting the extensive licensing and merchandising operations.
In short, Abarth is creating a world all of its own, a world that revolves around the core values that led to its great success in decades gone by: innovative design, state-of-the-art materials, and love for detail. Behind it all is an absolutely genuine passion for motoring, not to mention the company's human and technological assets, and the professional pride of the thousands of people – technicians, workers and executives – who have come and gone from the factories, offices and race tracks.
The target of Abarth's first project, later to be extended to other models, was the Grande Punto – on sale in Italy from September. It will be on the market in Switzerland by the end of the year, and will also be available in other countries during the course of 2008. There will hardly be time to draw breath between each launch: between now and the end of 2008, no less than four new product launches have been planned. The brand's development plans will force it to expand its production capability in the short term, and within a few months, Abarth's new home will have been completed at the Mirafiori plant. The new premises will group together the company's manufacturing, design and management divisions.
This fast pace explains the decision to give Abarth its own brand, managed by an independent company (Abarth & C. S.p.A., 100%-owned by Fiat Group Automobiles) whose distribution is entrusted to an exclusive commercial organisation covering four levels: flagship service centres, dealers, specialised tuners and workshops.
Agile and quick off the mark (in the best Abarth tradition), Abarth & C. S.p.A is in the hands of Chief Executive Officer Luca De Meo, and covers three areas of activity: Business Operations, Engineering & Manufacturing Operations and Racing Operations. The first division, led by Antonino Labate, has the task of designing the products and services for the customisation and tuning of standard sports cars, organising the sales and service network, and managing Abarth's merchandising and licensing operations.
The second area, Engineering & Manufacturing Operations, is headed by Paolo Ollino. He is responsible for technical development and production, together with the tuning and servicing of competition cars, and developing the car customisation and tuning products. The division works in partnership with the Engineering & Design division of Fiat Group Automobiles (led by Harald Wester).
Finally, the Racing Operations division, led by Claudio Berro, has the task of coordinating Abarth vehicles' entries in national and international motorsport competitions, organising the championships reserved for private customers, and managing relations with racing and rallying clients and sponsors.
Last but not least, Abarth can rely on the assistance of Paolo Martinelli, director of the Engine Division (Racing Operations) at Ferrari until October 2006, and currently head of the Petrol Engine Development Division at Fiat Powertrain Technologies.