MILAN Italian car maker Fiat SpA FIA.MI unveiled a seven-seat version of its retro-style 500 model on Thursday, hoping to tap into demand for higher-end cars and stem losses from Europe's moribund mass-market.
The 500L Living, which at 4.35 meters is about a meter longer than the classic 500, will go on sale for a base price of 19,200 euros in Italy in September.
"We expect to sell about 20,000 to 30,000 of them in Europe in the next 12 months," said Gianluca Italia, Fiat brand chief for Europe, Middle East and Africa.
Fiat chief executive Sergio Marchionne is seeking to squeeze more sales out of the 500 model in much the same way as BMW's Mini brand rolls out new versions of the same underlying car.
Europe's mass-market car makers are struggling under billions of euros of losses annually as consumers forgo new car purchases with unemployment at a record high.
"I don't see any signs of a turnaround in Europe," said Fiat-Chrysler group Chief Operating Officer Alfredo Altavilla.
Fiat is betting the 500 family has more appeal than its other mass-market cars like the ageing Punto. The five-door 500L - the world's only car to offer an optional on-board espresso machine - is built on the Punto platform but costs more.
"The strategy of leveraging the 500 brand awareness and like-ability should work out well for them," said Tim Urquhart, Senior Analyst at IHS Automotive in London.
Fiat aims to make between 110,000 and 150,000 500L cars at its plant in Serbia this year. Fiat said last month it sold 30,000 500Ls in the first five months in Europe, where its Fiat brand had a 5.3 percent market share in May.
It has sold a total of 75,000 500Ls since its launch in September 2012, Italia said. Fiat sells about 550,000 of its classic 500 cars per year, he said, and has sold 1.1 million of them since the car's launch in 2007.
Fiat began exporting the 500L to the United States in June.
The Trekking starts at 19,650 euros ($25,500) in Italy, about 4,000 euros more than an entry-level 500L and around 7,000 euros more than the basic 500.
(Reporting by Jennifer Clark; Editing by Mark Potter and Theodore d'Afflisio)