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The Italian Topolino Temper Tantrum | Axon’s Automotive Anorak

23rd May 2024
Gary Axon

About a month ago I reported on the serious war of words that had broken out between the mighty Stellantis automotive group and the touchy Italian Government, with the latter ultimately forcing the management team at Stellantis’ Alfa Romeo brand to make an uncomfortable last-minute decision to rename its new electric Milano crossover SUV as Junior, despite all the marketing materials and such already being issued with the Milano name.

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In fact, one of the GR&R editorial team that attended the Italian media launch for the model came back with a souvenir printed Alfa Romeo Milano place mat; an already-rare and probable future collectors’ item, just like a mis-printed upside down penny back stamp!   

The dispute between Stellantis and the Italian Government stems from the formers’ decision to not produce the new Alfa Romeo in its traditional Milan home of which the new model is named after - nor indeed even in Italy - but rather outside of the Country in its ex-Polski Fiat/FSM plant in Tychy, Poland, where the hugely successful Fiat 500, Panda, and Lancia Ypsilon have been built for years.

Just as we thought Stellantis had appeased the Italian authorities with its eleventh-hour renaming of the important new Alfa Romeo to keep the local Government sweet, yet another row has now broken out between these two mighty parties. This time, over the application of a small red, white, and green Italian flag sticker applied to the plastic bodywork of the cute little Fiat Topolino sibling of the Citroen Ami electric two-seater city car. The Italian fiscal police have this week confiscated and impound 134 imported Fiat Topolinos at the Italian port of Livorono, for the simple reason that they all wear a small Italian flag sticker, despite not being built in Italy, this violating Italian law! 

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Junior's a better name anyway | Thank Frankel it's Friday

18th April

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As with the Alfa Romeo Junior/nee-Milano, the Italian Government’s industry minister has decreed that only products actually produced in Italy can carry an Italian flag, due to a quirk of local Italian law that strictly forbids this type of thing. All of the new electric Fiat Topolinos are built in Morocco, alongside their Citroen Ami siblings. Ironically, all current second-generation Fiat Tipo models are also imported into Italy from Fiat’s former Tofas plant in Turkey (as were the baulk of Fiat Doblo light commercial vehicles), but as these don’t have any Italian flags applied to their coachwork, they can be freely imported into Italy with no restrictions. The same applies to the Polish-built Fiat 500s and Pandas, plus the British (Luton) made light commercial Scudo and Ducato vans.

The Italian Government says that the tiny Italian flag stuck to the small Topolinos could give a false impression of the cars’ origin, despite Fiat being an Italian marque and the Topolino being designed by Fiat’s Centro Stile design studio in Turin. Stellantis makes it clear that the sole purpose of the seamlessly harmless Italian flag sticker is ‘to indicate the entrepreneurial origin of the product’ and adds that the Group believed that it was fully complying with the Italian regulations.

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As this has not proved to be the case, the flag stickers will now be removed if this means that the cars can be freed from being impounded. Naturally, Topolinos sold outside of Italy can still be sold with the tiny Italian flags applied, and enterprising Italian Fiat dealers will probably re-apply the flag stickers once the vehicles have been sold and registered.     

This latest Stellantis clash with the Italian Government has come about to possibly help appease the local (but powerful) Italian unions - which have previously and successfully protested about the popular, high-volume baby Fiats being built outside of Italy and its negative impact on local jobs. It is forbidden by Italian legislation, introduced in 2023, to sell ‘Italian-sounding’ products that falsely claim to be Italian.

On its on-going gripe with Franco-Italian vehicle producing giant Stellantis, the Italian Government says that “The law stipulates that you cannot give indications that mislead consumers. Otherwise, it gives a misleading indication which is not allowed under Italian law.” Typically, this law has previously been invoked against food products not made in Italy, such as non-Italian parmesan cheese that resembles authentic ‘parmigiano.’

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