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!