Fiat recently presented its ultimate concept car to the international motoring press - the Ecobasic -- summarising its production approach towards recyclable, low-cost automobiles. The public, at large, will get an opportunity to see it at the Geneva Motor Show in spring next year, where Fiat will gauge people's reactions to its proposals.

The Ecobasic - 'the pocket FIAT that reinvents the future', according to the company -- is the prototype of the most environment friendly car the Italian marque has ever built. Through an independent test by the German TUeV, Ecobasic has shown to produce only 76 grams of CO2 and 0.025 grams of particulates per kilometre. The car needs less than 3 litres to drive 100 km. The actual consumption registered by the German TUeV are 2.86 and 2.89 litres per 100 km. As it is today, Ecobasic emissions are well "in line with Euro 4 regulations", effective in year 2005, and ruling limits that are half of those set for the Euro 3 period starting January 1st, next year.

Unlike similar cars introduced recently, Fiat's Ecobasic has been designed and engineered to be light on price as well.
A production derivative is expected to be priced at just Euro 5,000 if produced at the rate of 200,000 units per year. However, the Italian maker insisted that this is not the car it will be producing in the near future. Addressing a press conference, Fiat C.E.O. Roberto Testore stressed this in not a preview of the Seicento replacement Fiat plans to launch late in 2002 or early 2003. He however conceded the next "small Fiat" will share some ideas and features with Ecobasic. We have learnt that the Seicento replacement will be as tall and roomy as the Ecobasic, meeting the demand for lighter and economical cars that are roomier inside, at least at the front. The Ecobasic can easily accommodate two 95 percentile adults (up to 185 cm) at the front and two 50 percentile persons ( 170 cm) at the rear.

The suggested retail price is very close to the Panda, Fiat's least expensive car. Asked whether Ecobasic would replace the smaller and lighter Panda, Testore said the current Panda sold at more than 100,000 units per year and cannot not be dismissed or replaced.
Rather than being Fiat's answer to the Audi A2 1.2 TDI, the VW Lupo TDI or the Smart turbodiesel (just introduced in Italy), Fiat's Ecobasic is an all-round catalogue of realistic solutions developed for an affordable city car of the future. Filled with creative ideas, the 3.48 metre long four seater demonstrates Fiat's deeply rooted culture and superior expertise for small cars.

In essence, the prototype is "a sort of Smart, twice as roomy at half the price", commented one of those attending the presentation. Here too the buyer can build his or her own version according to one's needs -- add or take the second door on both sides, replace seats or leave them home.

Fiat's Ecobasic ID shows the picture of very charming, colourful and attractive all-round commuter with the look of a romantic cartoon-like car. Like the Fiat Multipla, Ecobasic too was designed under the directions of Roberto Giolito. Its data sheet speaks of a drag coefficient of just 0.28 (a record of sorts for a car its size), and a curb weight limited to 750 kg. Under the bolted hood, the powertrain marries the new 1.2-litre, 16-valve, multijet, turbodiesel Fiat engine (featuring a second generation common rail multiple injection management system) with a new (automatic clutch) manual gearbox.


In terms of performance, the concept car is credited with a top speed of 160 kph (electronically restrained) with a nought to 100 time of just 13 seconds. The four-cylinder unit delivers 45 kW at 3500 rpm and 160 Nm of torque at 1800 rpm. This small new diesel is scheduled for a year 2002 production launch and is said to grant Ecobasic speeds of 120 kph at 2200 rpm

_______More than just a pretty face.

There is a lot more behind the bold Ecobasic "Pilot Project" than just the product. Fiat Auto is taking this opportunity to present its investigations about the product and production engineering, a revolutionary assembling plant and the role of suppliers, plant, marketing techniques and the role of its dealers.
The body structure is not made of exotic and expensive aluminium or magnesium but a combination of solutions called the "third way". Conventional pressed steel technology is used in a way to create a spaceframe-like structure on which the car's subsystems and parts are made.
Fiat says the Ecobasic's body is only 150 kg in white, i.e. half the weight of a conventional body shell. The production cost is estimated to be at one third of a similar aluminium body structure.
This car structure is similar to the two "modular" platforms currently under development at Fiat and due to be shared by all future Fiats. One platform will be used to build A and B segment cars whereas the second platform will be used for all C and D segments.
Modula platforms will be used for high volume production model ranges, whereas "space-frame" platforms will be adopted for niche-markets, low or average production volume cars.

In the research Ecobasic vehicle, thermoplastics have been used for non-load-bearing parts of the frame (good-looking and easy to replace). Thermosetting plastics have also been used for lightness and strength, in parts such as the bonnet, roof panel and door frames.
Polycarbonates treated with anti-scratch solution are used for convex rear window, which is as clear as glass. Polypropylene is used for the front end (bumpers and front flap) to improve low-speed impact absorption.

The plant does not require a paintshop because the Ecobasic does not need to be painted. The assembly line is equipped for the production of just one version, even though the car can be built in 3, 4 or 5 doors configuration and with many variants, which have to be done by the dealer according to the final customer specifications.
New logistic criteria are changing the way components and parts are stocked, distributed and delivered and it is likely that Internet will have a major role to play here.

_______Aesthetic Cataphoresis: A different approach to painting.

The Ecobasic eliminates the need for a spray-on primer and top coat. The plastic panels are mass-dyed and the frame, which remains in view, is coloured by double-cataphoresis.
In the new process, pre-treated bodies undergo initial cataphoresis by immersion (the resulting coat is thinner than at present) to protect against corrosion. After this, they are stoved and sealed. A second cataphoretic coat, known as an aesthetic coat, i.e. a bright pastel coating applied to steel parts, is applied. It offers a level of resistance to atmospheric agents, comparable to that offered by a conventional top coat.
To change the paint process so radically, it would be necessary to build new lines, do away with booths and add an extra tank for the second cataphoresis run. The benefits would, however, be considerable not simply from a cost viewpoint but also ecologically -- the double cataphoretic cycle would permit 60% in savings compared to the current paint cycle and would produce emissions, 90% lower than the traditional primer-paint cycle.
Two Ecobasic prototypes, which have been manufactured at SZ Design facilities in the outskirts of Milan, are currently in existence. A third one is currently being assembled with major body components delivered by OEMs participating in the project.