MILAN Jan 7 Fiat will begin modifying
production lines at its Mirafiori plant in northern Italy very
soon, union sources said on Tuesday, suggesting the company is
making good on its pledge to safeguard car manufacturing in its
Politicians and unions have kept a close eye on developments
at Mirafiori amid speculation about possible delays to the
carmaker's promised 1 billion euro ($1.36 billion) investment in
the plant where it is expected to build a new Maserati sport
utility vehicle (SUV) to help bring its loss-making European
business back to profit.
"We expect work on the production lines to start
imminently," said the sources from two unions representing Fiat
workers, adding that some renovations had already been made to
buildings, including supply warehouses.
Fiat said that investments at Mirafiori were proceeding but
declined to give details.
The Maserati SUV is expected to be sold from 2015 as part of
Fiat's plan to boost the high-end brand's sales to 50,000 in
2015 from a little more than 6,000 cars in 2012.
Besides the Maserati SUV, Fiat is expected to produce
another new model at Mirafiori, possibly a luxury Alfa Romeo,
the union sources said.
Fiat, which has promised to eliminate losses in Europe by
2016, risks being left behind rivals such as Volkswagen
and Renault if it does not have new models
to sell into a fragile European market recovery that analysts
expect to gather momentum this year.
The company, which last week struck a $4.35 billion deal to
gain full control of No.3 U.S. automaker Chrysler, has said it
would announce a new industrial plan and detailed investment
programmes, including for Italian plants, at the end of
Unions and politicians last week said that they hoped the
Chrysler deal will channel investment into underutilised Italian
factories, which tick along at just 41 percent of capacity,
according to 2013 estimates from industry research company IHS
The new plan will include news on strategy for the Alfa
Romeo brand and clarify the future of Fiat's Cassino plant in
southern Italy, where new Alfa models are expected to be built.
Fiat currently takes advantage of a state-backed temporary
layoff scheme at Cassino, avoiding overproduction by keeping
workers at home when market demand is lower.
The scheme is due to expire at the end of February and any
new agreement will be linked to investments earmarked for the
site. Fiat, however, will not be required to disclose details of
new models to be built at Cassino before it announces the new
industrial plan, sources close to the company said.