By on December 1, 2009

Mama Mia! (courtesy:wikimedia)

Automotive News Europe [sub] reports that Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne has ordered a strategic review of the Alfa Romeo brand, citing declining sales and mounting losses. Alfa’s sales have fallen from 203,000 units in 2000 to 103,000 last year, and the brand has lost between €200m and €400m in each of the last ten years. According to Marchionne, Fiat’s sporty brand has undergone too many reinventions. “You cannot be a newborn Christian every four years,” he explains. “It’s the same religion, eventually you need to own a religion and carry it to conclusion.” The recent delay of the 147 replacement due to name-related issues was merely the latest trouble for the Alfa brand, which has struggled with aging products and underinvestment. According to Marchionne, Alfa faces two possible futures: retirement or rebirth… on Chrysler platforms?

The retirement scenario is basic enough. ANE [sub] explains that it involves

Freezing investment in the brand after the 147 hatchback is replaced by the Giulietta. This means that the 166 will not be replaced, leaving the brand with the Giulietta and the MiTo, Alfa’s first small car, as its only fresh models. The rest of the Alfa range — the 159, the Brera coupe, the Spider and the GT coupe will continue to be sold.

Presumably such a freeze would be followed either by a slow wind-down of the brand, or a post-economic-recovery revival. With Chrysler’s fate looming as a giant question mark over Fiat’s future, a comprehensive investment in Alfa would likely be delayed until Chrysler shows signs of serious recovery. And as depressing as that scenario is, the scenario where Alfa survives is almost more frightening.

Two of Alfa’s oldest models, the 159 and 166 sedans desperately need replacing (the latter was discontinued in 2007). And according to Marchionne, Fiat might just stoop to basing their successor models on Chrysler’s Sebring and LX platforms. “Certainly the availability of D and E segment (platforms) in the United States which are capable of being Alfa Romeoized is there,” says Sergio. “We need to look at the economics of that opportunity.”

Now before, the howls hit a fevered pitch at the idea of a Sebring-based Alfa, remember that Chrysler’s mid-sized sedan is being extensively re-worked by Fiat’s engineers this year. So, in theory anyway, a future Sebringetta might not be quite as bad as, say, the current Sebring. And an LX-based 166 replacement would be Alfa’s first rear-wheel-drive sedan in decades. And in any case, there are no plans to sell any Alfa models in the US, a point that Marchionne was crystal clear about when asked at Chrysler’s five-year plan presentation. And at least Marchionne realizes that “the heritage of the Alfa and Dodge brands is completely different, the DNA is completely different. We would lose a lot of the appeal of Alfa Romeo if we try to Americanize it through a merger with Dodge.”

But now that we’ve equivocated excessively, feel free to rage against the very notion of a storied enthusiast brand sinking to the level of re-working Chrysler products.

Madness? This is Fiatsler!

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21 Comments on “Alfa Romeo Strategic Review Ordered: Chrysler-Based Models In The Works?...”


  • avatar
    SV

    Two of Alfa’s oldest models, the 159 and 166 sedans, were discontinued in 2007 and desperately need replacing
    I’m pretty sure the 159 is still in production (it was introduced in 2005)
    A Sebring-based Alfa sounds nightmarish, but if it’s a new platform with large Fiat input it wouldn’t be so bad. The 159 should be good for another 2-3 more years though, I should think.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    Are you sure this wasn’t meant for MetaCars?

    This is just someones wet dream of an Alfa doomsday scenario. The 159 was introduced in 2005, hardly needed to be replaced in 2007, never mind discontinued. And Alfa has never been a strong seller in the big car league, like the 166.

    So, if Alfa can’t make it on its own, why use Chrysler bits? They have depended on Fiat platforms before, why not now then? And should Fiat put Chrysler before Alfa? Hardly, I say…
     

    • 0 avatar

      Ingvar: I wish this were merely made up… but “certainly the availability of D and E segment (platforms) in the United States which are capable of being Alfa Romeoized is there,” is a lot of quote to just make up and slap Sergio’s name on.
      And honestly, they might as well go ahead and build an Alfa version of the Sebring. Sergio said himself that Chrysler wouldn’t survive without a viable D-segment sedan in the US… if the overhauled Sebring isn’t a massive improvement, Chrysler is up excrement creek in that segment (and generally) until 2013 anyway. If it’s good enough to turn around Chrysler, it’s probably good enough to base an Alfa on.
      The fun part: we will find out how much of an improvement the Re-bring really is within twelve months!

  • avatar
    mjz

    I was always under the impression that Alfa would be getting versions of the LX and the new Grand Cherokee anyway. (See Allpar.com).  An Alfa version of the Sebring does make one stop and ponder. Fiat better be really heavily revising that platform if they want to birth an Alfa from it.

    • 0 avatar
      Ingvar

      That’s why I’m doubting the article. No one, and I mean, not a single one, would take a Sebring-sourced Alfa seriously. It’s the worst of the mother of all worst case doomsday scenarios ever imagined. And that’s why I’m thinking someone just made it up.

  • avatar
    CommanderFish

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with the JS platform besides possibly the weight, but find me a modern made-for-USA D segment platform that doesn’t have that platform.  It actually does quite well on crashtests.  The Sebring and the Avenger are the problem, not the problem they’re based off of.

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    With both Alfa and Chrysler is such dire straights it will be just about miraculous if Marchionne manages to resurect both. The Sebring/Alfa platform usage probably isn’t a nightmare at all if Alfa’s engineers are revising it. Alfa’s European markets probably have no clue about the Sebring as it is currently sold in the U.S. and if Alfa is to be sold in the U.S. I don’t see an Alfa revised Sebring platform being a detraction either. The potential U.S. buyers aren’t familiar with current Alfa products anyway.

  • avatar
    getacargetacheck

    Alfa-Romeo is a has-been.  It died back in the 80s when Ford nearly got control of it.  Like Saab and Volvo and Pontiac and Saturn and many other formerly autonomous or semi-autonomous auto brands, Alfa got sucked into a bigger mothership for economic reasons and lost it’s uniqueness.  Sure, there are some styling differences.  So what?  How are sales?  Right.  Everyone who says Fiats and Alfas are good and Americans will love them are just parroting car magazines.  Reminds me of all the talk about how if GM would just bring over Holden’s V-8 full sized cars Americans would buy them in droves.  How’d that work out?  Not good times two.  Marchionne is a salesman.  Proceed with caution.

  • avatar

    They say that the F-18E/F Super Hornet was created by sawing off  the F-18C behind the cockpit and grafting on a new airframe.

    You can do the same thing with the Sebring/Avenger platform.  Basically you take the frame and put on  a different suspension, powertrain, interior and viola — you have a credible midsize Alfa sedan.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Alfa only sells 100K/year?  Wow that’s low.  Fiat’s problems at home are so large, I don’t see how they can devote much energy to fixing Chrysler.

    At this point, the only carmaker that could actually keep Chrysler alive is Honda, and they have wisely shown zero interest.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Alfa only sells 100K/year?  Wow that’s low.
     
    Alfa isn’t all they sell.  There’s the FIAT brand itself that accounts for the bulk of sales, as well as Lancia, Maserati and Ferrari.  They’re about 5% of Europe’s market, which isn’t too bad.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    psarhjinian,
    5% isn’t too bad if you are BMW or M-B.  But for a mainstream player like Fiat, it is a problem.  VW, Ford and the French have about double Fiat’s sales, meaning greater scale economies and hence profitability.  Ford, VW and Renault/Nissan have the added benefit of global reach, also adding to their scale.
    Even if they don’t invest a dime, Fiat’s foray with Chrysler will be as successful as Hitler’s second front in the USSR.
     
     

  • avatar
    Petrus

    The Fiat Group actually represents 8-9 % of the European car market, with Alfa at 0,8 %, Lancia at 0,9 % and about 7 % for the Fiat brand itself. Since there basically absent from Scandinavia, and much of Eastern Europe (and Lancia is absent from all RHD markets as well), those figures are quite decent.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    The blind leading the lame. How can Fiat rescue Chrysler when it needs rescuing itself?

  • avatar
    Porsche986

    Have they lost their minds?  Seriously?

  • avatar
    Stingray

    “Certainly the availability of D and E segment (platforms) in the United States which are capable of being Alfa Romeoized is there,” says Sergio. “We need to look at the economics of that opportunity.”
    Hell yeah!!! Considering most of the current Alfa products might be based on GM platforms…
    I’d like to see the result of all this madness.

  • avatar
    John_K

    So, Alfa owners are jealous of their Chrysler friends getting only 10mpg and having their transmission fall apart at 40K?

    Unbeleivable!

  • avatar
    AnthonyG

    I am amazed that Lancia is still going – it hasn’t been sold in the UK since 1993. Most of the models are just  Fiats with a badge on.

    Alfa Romeo’s main problem is the dealers which are renowed here for being appalling with sales and service – OK maybe for a sub $10k Fiat minicar, but not what you want on a  premium car meant to compete with BMW

  • avatar
    gcorley

    Am I the only person to see the irony in all this?

    Fiat was supposed to be saving Chrysler LLC!  Now we hear, firstly that future Lancias and now possibly Alfa Romeos will be based on “Chrysler platforms”!

    Everyone seems to forget that the Sebring and 300C are based on platforms borrowed from other OEMs.

    The Sebring/Avenger (JS) was developed off the Mitsubishi Eclipse/Galant platform (PS) and the 300C (LX) is based on the old Mercedes-Benz E-Class MY96 platform (W210).

    The Fiat platform (C-Evo) that is talked about as a basis for the C/D platform for the replacements of the Sebring/Avenger, was actually the Fiat version of the GM based Epsilon platform.

    So what is Fiat actually contributing to this “marriage of unequals”?  A Fiat Panda 4×4 based Jeep!!!!

  • avatar
    midelectric

    Poor sales are the result of trying to pimp a pedestrian FWD platform into something that’s supposed to compete with BMW; all they’ve ended up with are heavy, unbalanced and mal-proportioned products that don’t deliver on the promise of the brand.  Pony up the dough to deliver a dedicated platform or go home.  Alfas of old had a sedan, coupe and convertible built off the same platform that said volumes while having the ability to be built on the same line.  By trying to take the expedient and seemingly cheaper route or corporate-wide platform rationalization, Fiat has actually made things more complicated without delivering the proper caliber product.


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