If Fiat Auto SpA and Ford Motor Co. finalize their agreement to co-develop a pair of sub-B segment cars for the European market, Fiat will take the engineering lead.

“If the project goes ahead, it's on our platform,” Sergio Marchione, Fiat CEO, tells Ward's.

The auto makers last month signed a memorandum of understanding to explore a joint venture that would see the return of the Fiat Seicento minicar in late 2007. For Ford, the project would yield the replacement for the aging Ka entry-level car in 2008.

The MOU gives Fiat and Ford until the end of the year to evaluate the business case for the proposed plan and decide whether to proceed, says John Fleming, CEO and president-Ford of Europe.

Some determinations have been made, such as where the car might be built, Marchione says. Pending a final agreement with Ford, he declines to reveal the site, saying only, “We have a pretty good idea.”

News reports have linked production plans to Fiat's assembly site in Tychy, Poland, with volumes of about 100,000 units annually for each model. The expectation is the cars will be based on a shortened version of the Fiat Panda platform.