Marchionne collects the “Car of the Year 2008” award and the 500 rides the Berlin underground

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The “Car of the Year 2008” award, which was given to the Fiat 500 by a jury of 58 specialist journalists from 22 European countries, was presented last night at a ceremony in Berlin.

Fiat’s supermini was not only the overall winner, it also received votes from the largest number of jury members: 57 out of 58 included the car on their short lists, and no fewer than 33 put it in first place. It is also the second A-Segment car – the first was the Fiat Panda in 2004 – to win the worldwide motor industry’s most prestigious title. An extraordinary record, that brings the total Car of the Year titles won by Fiat Group Automobiles to twelve.

Picking up the prize, Sergio Marchionne, C.E.O. of Fiat Group Automobiles, declared: “We have gone a long way in a short space of time.

And I am proud to be able to underline that Fiat was the fastest growing car brand in Europe last year. The 500 is not a final target for the brand, but just the first stage in the ongoing development of the ‘new Fiat’. Which is why we see the 500 as not just a car, but as a ‘travelling agenda’ of what we want to achieve.”

Underscoring this sentiment expressed by Mr Marchionne, a ground-breaking initiative was organised in the German capital, which allowed a car manufacturer to use part of its underground rail network for the very first time.

From the beginning of 2008 until last night’s ceremony, two Fiat 500s “dressed” in the exclusive pearl white body shade, were seen on a platform car being drawn by a train. The train’s unusual journey took place every weekend over part of the underground network (145 kilometres) which at weekends is used by about 1.8 million people.

As the train passed through each of the 170 stations, U-Bahn travellers were able to admire the diminutive Fiat, as well as read an amusing message on a placard set between the two cars: “Happy new car of the year everybody”, a new year’s greeting that reminded everybody of the prestigious award won by the car.

This Berlin initiative was greeted with the same enthusiasm that saw the whole of Germany and in fact the whole of Europe, welcome the arrival of the new Fiat 500: more than 140,000 orders have been placed since its launch and this despite the fact that in countries like Germany, it has only been on sale for the past two months.

Assuring the 500’s success is the fact that it is the ultimate expression of the brand’s stylistic and engineering excellence. The 500 introduces numerous novelties and sets important records in its segment.

For example, this is the first time that a car that is just 3.55 metres long has been awarded 5 EuroNCAP stars, and the standard outfit of 7 airbags is a ‘first’ for this category (the knee-bag is unique for a supermini). So is the offer of an evolved ESP on all the 1.4-litre engines.

What is more, it is the first car to be launched with an engine range that already respects Euro 5 emissions limits, more than two years before these become law. That is not all.

The Fiat 500 is also the first supermini to boast such a vast range, the result of combining 4 specification levels, 3 engines, 12 colours (including 6 ‘vintage’ colours that hark back to the Fifties and Sixties, and triple-coat white that is the result of a manufacturing process that up to now has only been adopted on supercars), 15 types of interior upholstery including luxury Cordura and Frau leather, 9 types of wheels and 19 different decals, making a total of 500,000 variants.

There are also 100 original accessories designed specifically for the Fiat 500 – the most unusual being the electric fragrance diffuser and the coloured key fobs – and the most advanced infotelematic devices, such as the multifunction Blue&Me™ system.

These are the winning features of a car that has become the new benchmark for its segment. And the prestigious “Car for the Year 2008” title confirms the great interest it has aroused in the international media since it was presented in Turin on July 4 last year. When it goes to market in South Africa this July, it’s certain to make waves on this side of the globe too.