“Balkan tiger” doesn’t care about “panda”

The first electric Fiat Panda, manufactured at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) facilities in Kragujevac, will be presented to the local public in the second half of July, with mass production set to begin in October, sources close to the management of Stellantis’ subsidiary has confirmed. The global promotion of the Fiat Grande Panda is scheduled for July 11 in Turin, coinciding with Fiat’s 125th anniversary.

The Panda has been rolling off the production lines in Kragujevac for weeks now, albeit in limited numbers, and completed cars are immediately covered with protective foil to keep their appearance hidden from the public. Following the promotion, production will gradually increase, and mass production is expected to start in October in two or three shifts. Although the appearance of the Šumadija version is being closely guarded in Kragujevac, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) has confirmed that it is indeed the Fiat Grande Panda, which was recently spotted on the streets of Turin. Besides the electric models, a hybrid version of the Grande Panda will also be produced in Kragujevac.

Recently, the hybrid version of the Grande Panda, featuring an electric drive and an internal combustion engine, also rolled out of the FCA facilities and will be produced in Kragujevac, along with the electric Citroën eC3. Radar’s sources are still unsure whether mass production of all three models will start simultaneously in October, but they lean towards the assumption that production will begin with the electric Panda first, followed by the hybrid Panda and eC3 later this year or early next year.

Industry experts interpret Stellantis’ decision to also produce a hybrid version of the Panda as a strategy to play it safe and avoid the negative effects of major fluctuations in the global electric car market. Especially since hybrid models are cheaper and still more acceptable to many drivers.

FCA workers also believe that the business future of the factory, and consequently their livelihoods, is more secure with hybrids than with solely electric cars. Although prices have not yet been announced, it is assumed that the electric Grande Panda, which can travel up to 320 or 350 kilometers on a single battery charge, will cost around 23,000 euros, with a range of up to 200 kilometers costing between 19,000 and 20,000 euros, and the hybrid version around 15,000 euros.

The eC3, with a range of over 300 kilometers, will cost 23,300 euros. Citroën announced that from 2025, the price of the eC3 version with a range of up to 200 kilometers will be 19,900 euros. The Serbian government has decided to subsidize the purchase of each domestic electric car with 5,000 euros, meaning that the cheaper version of the electric Panda would cost around 15,000 euros.

Incomprehensible Indifference of the State, Minority Co-Owner of FCA

At the same time, FCA employees are concerned about the incomprehensible indifference and lack of interest from the Serbian state, a minority co-owner of the factory.

The Serbian government committed in a 2008 contract with Fiat to complete a 25-kilometre road to connect Kragujevac with Corridor 10, but this has not yet been finished. The Lapovo-Kragujevac-Kraljevo railway is in much worse condition than it was at the end of the 19th century. While the authorities boast of high-speed railways, with trains developing speeds of up to 200 km/h, the average speed of the trains on the Lapovo-Kragujevac-Kraljevo railroad is 27 km/h. Even the bypass around Kragujevac hasn’t been completed in 12 years. Nevertheless, this will not stop high-ranking state officials from flocking to Kragujevac soon for the Panda promotion.

The contract between the Serbian government and Stellantis, which stipulates the production of electric and hybrid cars, was signed over two years ago when the government paid 48 million euros from the budget.

Since then, nothing more has been done, while the Italian government has been fighting “tooth and nail” with Stellantis management to secure as many new models and jobs as possible for Fiat’s factories in Italy. On the other hand, no one from the Serbian government has visited the Kragujevac factory in the past two years, and Radar sources claim that even the city authorities have no contact with FCA management.

Although the reconstruction of the dilapidated bridge connecting Knez Mihailo Boulevard with the main entrance to FCA was announced long ago, it has not yet been touched. The first tender for the reconstruction, partially funded by the EU, was launched at the beginning of the year but was canceled in February. The reason is unknown. A new tender was launched in mid-March and closed on June 3. Again, the outcome is unknown.

Many Unknowns

There is also concern about how many FCA suppliers will be located in Kragujevac and the surrounding area. American company Adient has already shut down its plants for producing seats and some other parts, and FCA itself has taken over the production of bumpers, instrument panels, door trims, and some other parts from Fiat Plastics.

Nobody knows whether Sigit, a manufacturer of plastic parts supplying BMW, Land Rover, Jaguar, and Porsche from Kragujevac, remains on FCA’s supplier list, or if other former Fiat suppliers, who built plants and distribution centers in Kragujevac at the beginning of the last decade, are still on the list.

The state has not even tried to stimulate the development of domestic auto parts production to localize vehicle production in the Kragujevac factory as much as possible. Due to the low localization of production (less than 50% of parts are domestically produced), cars from Kragujevac cannot be sold in the markets of the Eurasian Economic Union—Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan—as well as China, despite Serbia having free trade agreements with them. The agreement with China came into effect on July 1. Perhaps everything will become clearer after July 11, when Stellantis management is expected to reveal the details regarding the future mass production of electric and hybrid vehicles in Serbia.

(Radar, 09.07.2024)


This post is also available in: Italiano

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