Car History Chronicles
Fiat’s Brazilian Adventure Has Come to an End
Branch is so invested in its reinvention that it’s even abandoning the trim version which set one of the biggest local market trends
- Light off-road trim was released in the late 1990s and became a hit
- Crossovers rose and encouraged Fiat to make serious decisions
- Current lineup divides tasks with Jeep to better cater to all drivers
Many Chronicles published here prove that the automotive world is made of trends. New brands emerge, existing brands rethink themselves, new body styles appear, new technologies are created… since trends come and go, we can quickly understand that the concept of car changes all the time. This is so certain that even affects the trends we come to consider too strong to fade.
The body style we now know as crossover was born from the new desire to put together urban comfort and handling with off-road styling and capabilities. In the early 2000s, that desire was taken to practice through a light off-road trim that could be applied to urban cars. After being one of the leader users of that trend in Brazil, Fiat’s newest releases show it’s finally abandoned it altogether.
What was this trend?
The Adventure trim level was created in 1999 to make urban cars take a small step into the off-road world. The Palio Weekend station wagon was enhanced with taller suspension, front protector with long-distance lights and darkened tail lights, and had several external parts unpainted to better withstand small impacts. It was based on the intermediate trim and came at reasonable prices.
Fiat’s idea became a hit because it spoke to its audience. While few customers would actually buy the model to actually go off-road, it turned out to be better prepared to deal with Brazil’s typically poor road conditions — not to mention those who often travel to beaches or the countryside. Over time, the new trim level would become popular to an unprecedented extent in all Latin America.
How popular it became?
Fiat extended it to the Strada pick-up in 2001 and only duplicated its success. Two years later, it decided to apply it to the Doblò van to make up for its looks, which wasn’t really getting approval in Brazil. By that time, it had become the upscale trim on all those cars, but customers seemed not to really mind it. The Idea minivan received it in 2006 pretty much like a sure move and it worked.
Naturally, the trend didn’t go unnoticed by Fiat’s competitors. The market had from Citroën to Nissan offering at least one model in light off-road trim, most of them developed exclusively for Latin America. The Italian maker remained strong by updating the Adventure models in style and equipment but keeping costs low at all times, since that was one of the key sales arguments for them.
What made it lose momentum?
First of all, its own evolution. Adventure and its competitors soon became the most expensive trim levels of their respective models, so people would have to pay more and more for what were essentially a couple mechanical tweaks and many cosmetic additions. Besides, as we moved towards the 2010s, crossovers began to rise by offering better cost/benefit ratio to the same target audience.
The Adventure trim set a standard that became too hard to keep at the prices people would accept. Fiat proved that to itself after it managed to sell well the Way trim, a low-cost alternative exclusive to entry-level cars like the Uno. The original idea was pushed to this secondary purpose because the primary one had become much better served by models designed for it from the beginning.
What did Fiat do next?
Former Adventure buyers were redirected by parts. The wealthiest ones could take advantage of the then-new FCA, which created the Renegade to compete among compact crossovers in Latin America using Jeep’s stronger image. Few years later, it kept the Way trim for entry-level cars but designed the Trekking for the others, namely the Argo, with a toned-down, value-oriented approach.
With a typical divide-and-conquer strategy, Fiat’s group offered true off-road capabilities to people who wanted them and competitive prices to people who needed them. The Adventure “division” was defunded and its survivors left to fend for themselves until their sales figures were no longer attractive. The last of them was Strada’s, which was dropped with the pick-up’s new generation.
How is the post-Adventure Fiat?
Free from trying too hard, for one. With serious off-road tasks relinquished to Jeep, the Italian brand went back to focusing on urban cars. The Toro and the Strada, two pick-up trucks which became unexpectedly successful, now share a specific naming structure for their trim levels to better suit their own needs: the Toro, for example, offers a Ranch trim acting on the luxury off-road niche.
Seeing the Adventure go from unpretentious version to the founder of a huge market trend then gradually fading out only proves that nothing is constant in the automotive world. Any maker can only stay competitive in changing times if it pays attention to every new trend and has no fear of executing whatever it takes to properly follow a best-selling trend, regardless of how hard it may be.