FRANKFURT, Germany – The Fiat Freemont cross/utility vehicle “does not have a Fiat origin, nor is a traditional Fiat segment,” but it’s already been a huge success, says Olivier Francois, marketing chief for Fiat and Chrysler.

Skeptics crowed when Fiat announced the Freemont, a reworked and rebadged version of the Dodge Journey CUV, would join its European lineup.

But Francois notes Fiat dealers already have collected 20,000 orders, which accounts for 70% of the model’s anticipated 2011 production.

Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat and Chrysler, says he is not surprised by the Freemont’s success.

“We worked on this vehicle to cater to the European markets and brought in a decent diesel and with an automatic transmission and all-wheel drive,” he tells WardsAuto on the sidelines of the Frankfurt auto show here. “It’s a significant improvement over anything in the marketplace.”

The Freemont is offered with front-wheel drive and two 2.0L 4-cyl. turbodiesels rated at 140 hp and 170 hp. Both are mated to a manual gearbox.

All-wheel-drive versions come with either a 170-hp 2.0L MultiJet 4-cyl. diesel or a 276-hp 3.6L Chrysler Pentastar V-6 gasoline engine. Both engines are tied to a Chrysler automatic transmission.

Marchionne says the Freemont’s success opens the door for other Chrysler products to be rebadged for sales as Fiat products. “This is an integrated operation. There will be a free flow of goods from one entity to another.”

Also bowing at the Frankfurt auto show is the all-new Fiat Panda small car.

The third-generation Panda gets new sheet metal, a horizontal grille, rounded front fascia and new headlamps.

It comes equipped with a variety of engines, including two new 2-cyl. engines – an 85-hp 0.9L TwinAir Turbo and a 65-hp 0.9L normally aspirated TwinAir, both equipped with Fiat’s patented stop/start system.

Also offered are a 69-hp 1.2L gas engine and a 75 hp diesel.

Rounding out the powertrain choices are a 75-hp 1.3L Multijet II diesel with stop/start technology; 80-hp biofuels 0.9L TwinAir Turbo Natural Power (gas/methane) mill; and 69-hp 1.2L EasyPower biofuel (gas/liquefied petroleum gas) engine.

Production is expected to begin later this year.

bpope@wardsauto.com