Fiat Chrysler Automobiles South Africa (Pty) Ltd sells vehicles for the mass market, including the renowned Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Fiat Professional, Jeep, Chrysler and Dodge brands. Marco Melani, CEO, shares his industry insight and expertise.


You have a wealth of experience from your 14 years in the industry. What are some of the key changes you have seen in the automotive industry?

I was fortunate to start with an organisation of the calibre of Fiat Group Automobiles and had the opportunity to develop my skills and experience within the company. My roles within the company have included marketing, pricing, sales and product management.

Being with FCA for so many years I have experienced, first-hand, the different stages of the company’s development. Naturally, there were challenges, including dips in the economy and exchange rates, as in any industry. The agility of FCA as an organisation has always helped to steer the company correctly.

The merger between Fiat and Chrysler has been a key milestone for the company. It was a full integration process and was completed at a pace never before seen in our industry. Since 2014 we were no longer a group but, instead, became a company.

This merger has opened horizons for the company in terms of our global footprint, our product portfolio and our customer profile.

The automotive industry is such a dynamic and engaging industry and is constantly changing and shaping the way the world works.

What have been your greatest leadership lessons and career triumphs?

The company ethos of leading people and leading change, as well as a culture of striving for excellence, has shaped my work ethic and leadership style. Also, having worked with many markets, from Japan to the Middle East and Africa, has widened my view of different types of markets. What has also surprised me is the way in which strong, iconic brands such as the Fiat 500 can spark a following, even in markets with such different cultures.

FCA is the seventh-largest automaker in what is a perpetually competitive market in terms of price as well as innovation. What is your focus for the next year or two and is there a particular niche you are targeting?

Our focus is on the growth of the FCA brands in the South African market and to strengthen our market share. Our product line-up across all our brands are expanding worldwide and we can look forward to some exciting introductions to the South African landscape.

As the new CEO of FCA SA, what major challenges and opportunities lie in wait for you and your team?

We are affected by fluctuations in the economy and the exchange rate, which is naturally a challenge for any importer. In terms of opportunities, we have just introduced the Fiat Professional Fullback. This is a new segment for us in a very competitive space, but we believe the Fullback will definitely find a following. As a newcomer, the Fullback has the typical characteristics of a bakkie—strength, versatility and agility, but combined with the style, spirit and attitude that only the Italian brand, Fiat Professional has. We’re proud to offer customers a new alternative to the established competitors in the bakkie market.

In addition to that, the Alfa Romeo brand is going through a major revitalisation globally, as well as in South Africa. The Alfa Romeo brand has a tremendous following in the country. The eagerly anticipated Giulia makes its South African debut shortly but, apart from this, there are also a couple of other stylish Italian introductions that South Africans can look forward to.

What new innovations or projects can we expect from FCA SA—or even competitive advantages that are going to turn the heads of private buyers as well as public and private sector fleet clients?

The Fullback now completes our range of Fiat Professional vehicles. We have a product line-up that can cover all the business needs of this entrepreneurially-minded market. The Fiat Professional range of models is multi-awarded in Europe as commercial vehicles for all types of business. It is a leading brand in so many of our markets.

We have strategic plans to grow our presence in the market for both commercial and private vehicles. The exciting new products coming up in the next year will help get us there. Customers can definitely expect a lot of interesting launches in the near future across all our brands.

What is the key thing that you are hearing from SA consumers that they are viewing as the biggest requirement?

Coming here, I was surprised at how car-enthusiastic the South African people are. There is such a personal passion for beautiful cars. At FCA SA, we are fortunate because, with our unique heritage, we share the same passion and enthusiasm about our vehicles and brands. This is something that few manufacturers can enjoy.In addition, our brands speak to the requirements of South African consumers from the style and innovation of our Alfa Romeo models to the lifestyle and legendary capability of our Jeep models. South Africans want vehicles that resonate with them, not just vehicles that take them from point A to point B, and we’re proud to offer such products to the market.

What is the potential for Fiat further afield in Africa?

We are responsible for marketing for all of Africa and it is definitely a market that we understand the importance of. We will continue to offer a range of products that have been carefully planned for the very specific requirements and conditions of the African market, such as the previously mentioned Fullback and the new Fiat Tipo, which is a big success in the European market. Models such as these allow us to compete in some of the biggest vehicle segments in Africa and offer suitable solutions to this diverse market.

How have you adapted within your systems and products to meet the changing needs of your current and future customers?

A driver-centric focus is paramount in product development. The customer is much more discerning when it comes to technology. Our products are based on this insight and our models are all very well specified and come standard with features, which are optional amongst competitors.

Being a global player affords us the ability to ensure our products are at the forefront of innovation, enabling us to adapt to consumer needs as they happen.

Tell us about Fiat’s Italian heritage?

Our proud and passionate Italian heritage has set the foundation for who we are as FCA, but our global market and our individual brands have added a unique flavour to our company culture. We try to take the best that each market has to offer and apply this to anything we do.

The Fiat and Alfa Romeo brands, in particular, are the epitome of our Italian heritage, offering vehicles that are so unique, beautiful and inspire passion in our customers all over the world. Impeccable styling and design are traits of Italian brands and this is woven into our automotive architecture.

What is the future of FCA in South Africa?

We are revitalising and renewing the product line-up both globally and locally. We will continue investing in the country and in our customers.

The South African market is one we are very passionate about and we look forward to increasing our presence, both on the road and in the hearts of South Africans.

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