One of Europe’s most popular cars, the Fiat Panda, never really gained a foothold here in Australia. Fiat’s failure the properly market the car is one reason why just 577 Pandas have been registered on our roads since it was introduced less than 2 years ago – I personally didn’t even know it was here until I spotted one on the road 6 months ago.
But perhaps the main culprit for the Panda’s failure was the fact it was never offered with a conventional automatic transmission. Those considering a Panda were faced with the prospect of either a 5-speed manual or a 5-speed “Duologic sports automatic”, which was actually a single clutch automated manual gearbox. In essence, a manual gearbox with the car operating the clutch for you. Dual-clutch automatic gearboxes like the one found in the Volkswagen range of vehicles work in a similar way, but they have two clutches and two sets of gears, allowing for seamless, split-second shifts between gears. The single clutch gearbox in the Panda meant shifts were the exact opposite – slow and jerky.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Australia President and CEO Pat Dougherty also thinks the Panda may have enjoyed better sales if it were available with a conventional automatic transmission. “It is a great product globally for us, but for a few reasons it didn’t resonate with the Australian buyer. We stopped ordering them months ago,” he said at last week’s launch of the face lifted Chrysler 300.
“I think that one thing is the automatic transmission. I don’t think most consumers acclimate well to it. Having said that, the fuel efficiency of that is much better than a normal automatic transmission, and you can get great fuel efficiency out of it if you know how to drive it.”
“But our focus for the time being is on growing the Fiat line-up, with both the Fiat 500X and 124 set to launch in Australia soon, along with the updated Fiat 500.”
Released here in October 2013 in Pop, Easy, Lounge and Trekking variants, the current 312/319-series Panda was launched in Europe in 2011 and is not due for a complete model change until 2018,” he added.
Prices for the Panda ranged from $16,500 drive-away for the Pop to $24,000 (plus on-road costs) for the Trekking. The Easy and Lounge were the only models to offer the Dualogic automated manual gearboxes. By June 2014 Fiat dealers slashed prices on the Panda Easy manual to almost half price at less than $12,000 drive-away. By April this year, the remaining 2013-build Pandas were being sold for as little as $10,000 drive-away for the Easy manual.
Those who will mourn the loss of the Panda still have time to pick up a bargain, with about 80 vehicles still remaining in dealer stock.