We spotted this camouflage-covered mule in Ann Arbor, Michigan and were stumped – what was a Fiat Qubo van doing in the U.S.?
Given the small footprint of the platform that underpins the Qubo, we think that it may be a test mule for an upcoming B-segment Chrysler vehicle. According to Chrysler's product plan from November 2009, both Dodge and Jeep are slated to receive Fiat-engineered B-segment cars next year.
The Qubo rides on Fiat's Small Platform, a subcompact, front-wheel drive platform that also underpins the Fiat Grande Punto and Alfa Romeo MiTo; the upcoming 2013 Fiat 500L and Fiat Doblo van (both which will be coming here, the latter under the Ram brand) both ride on a wider version called Small Wide.
Although the entire front fascia was obscured by camouflage, it was clear that this car is based upon the bodywork of a Fiat Qubo, thanks to the rising window line and boxy shape. Despite wearing production-spec taillights, the mule also had separate reverse lights mounted below the rear bumper, something typically not found on Qubos presently sold in Europe. Most of the interior was obscured; however, we could easily make out the steering wheel from a Fiat 500 and the gauges from a 500L. The front-end camo gives the impression that this could just be a leftover mule from 500L development, but most 500L mules have worn the 500L’s curvy bodywork. What we can see, though, is what looks to be an intercooler down low, likely evidence of a small-displacement turbocharged I-4 (perhaps the 1.4-liter unit found elsewhere in the Fiat-Chrysler lineup).
There are several possibilities as to what this mule might be testing. The product plan unfurled by Chrysler management in 2009 suggested Dodge would receive a B-segment offering – derived from a Fiat platform – in time for the 2013 model year. Whether or not that’s still the case remains to be seen: IHS Automotive senior analyst Aaron Bragman told us that "[Chrysler has] been following the November 2009 plan pretty well…but that it's unlikely [they will] introduce something that will cannibalize the Fiat 500." Even a funky, boxy-looking thing like the Qubo could potentially step on the 500 family’s toes.
We think a more likely possibility is this test car foreshadows one of two compact cute-utes scheduled to make use of this platform. The same 2009 product plan called for a Fiat-based, B-segment Jeep for Europe which is tentatively titled the Jeepster. The other? A 500-like crossover for Fiat, which is known as the 500x. That model is expected to share some styling cues with the 500L, but use a different body. That may explain why this tester shares a nose with other 500L prototypes we’ve seen on the road, but nothing else.
What do you think could be lurking under the camouflage? Let us know in the comments section.