GENEVA – As Auto SpA tries to reinvent its namesake Fiat brand, it will take a new styling direction, one that signifies Italian heritage, while at the same time setting a new course for the ailing Italian marque.
That duty falls on the shoulders of Frank Stephenson, who moved from Ferrari SpA’s chief design post toAuto, where he assumes styling leadership for the Fiat, Lancia and commercial truck divisions.
Stephenson, who penned the popular Mini forAG, tells Ward’s at the auto show here that he was given a heads-up about the potential promotion months ago, but he didn’t receive official confirmation until just weeks before the announcement.
While he enjoyed his stay at Ferrari, he says he is eager to begin to set a course for the Fiat brand, which has failed to establish a consistent design theme throughout its product lineup.
“Basically, I have to try to get something in there (from a design perspective) that people want to buy,” Stephenson says. “At the moment, (Fiats) kind of all look different from one another, and I think they should get some consistency started. Every country has their look. With Fiat, we need to define Italian design.”
Stephenson says it will take at least a few years for his influence to be seen in Fiat vehicles, but he’s anxious to get started. While he refuses to speculate on design themes under discussion, Stephenson admits it will take radical change to move Fiat in the right direction.
“I plan on putting Fiat back on track, and Fiat has to get into a pattern of success. It’s a huge responsibility,” he says.
He provides a hint of what might be in Fiat’s design future by acknowledging the brand needs to exude more Italian flare, similar to Italian fashion.
“I’m looking for something that looks like the Ferrari. You can tell a Ferrari without seeing the badge, and that’s (where) we need to get with Fiat,” he says.
His new position will allow him to have a more profound impact on Italian vehicle design overall, Stephenson adds. While Ferrari sells less than 5,000 cars annually, Fiat has a broader reach across all segments and in larger volumes.
“You are going to help more people at Fiat. If you get it right, you are going to save a lot of people and a lot of jobs and that’s going to be good for everybody,” he says.