By on April 21, 2010

The last ten years have not been kind to Fiat’s Alfa-Romeo brand, as 2009 sales levels fell to about half their 2000 volumes. Having put Alfa on “strategic review” and stuffed it into a “brand channel” with Maserati and Abarth, CEO Sergio Marchionne has had a change of heart, and is now “determined” to build the brand into a “full-line premium carmaker.” According to Automotive News [sub]’s coverage of Fiat’s five year plan presentation, that means committing to a US presence targeting 85,000 annual sales by 2014. For a sense of scale, the Alfa brand sold a grand total of 103,000 units globally last year. And Alfa is going to have to kick ass around the world to meet Sergio’s goals. By the time Marchionne expects American Alfisti to buy 85k units each year, he wants the brand’s global sales to have increased nearly five-fold to half a million units. Ambitious doesn’t even begin to describe it…

As if Alfa’s sales goals seem optimistic, consider how little time the firm has to roll out a full lineup for the US. With US-market sales scheduled for 2012, Alfa admits that it needs seven new products to reach the “full-line” status it desires. Two of these new vehicles will be built in the US, by Chrysler. One, described as “a compact SUV based on the Compact architecture that underpins the Giulietta hatchback in Europe,” will go into production in 2012. The other, “a large SUV, similar in size to the next Jeep Liberty,” won’t be built until 2014. Was the world begging for Alfa-branded SUVs? We sure didn’t get the memo.

Spearheading Alfa’s US sales launch in 2012 will be a midsized sedan (with station wagon variant) to be called Giulia. Because Fiat says this model will replace the European-market Alfa 159, it seems likely that this will be built on Fiat’s update to Chrysler’s Sebring platform. Whether Fiat is able to bring those underpinnings into the the competitive envelope still very much remains to be seen, but we’ll have a sense of it when the Sebring update rolls out around the new year. Regardless of the Giulia’s mechanical heritage, it will be built in Italy and imported for US sales. A new Alfa Spider will also be built on an undisclosed Chrysler platform for 2013, but a production site was not named.

Joining the Italian immigration at a later date will be the five-door version of Alfa’s MiTo hatchback. The five-door MiTo won’t even be available in Europe (where a three-door version is currently soldd) until 2013, so it could take even longer to arrive stateside. And Alfa will wait even longer to bring the Giulietta compact to the US market. Though the brand-new hatchback goes on sale this month in Europe, Alfa will wait until it receives a facelift in 2014 to import it to the US.

As we’ve explored before, Marchionne’s plan to rebuild the Alfa brand in America is one hell of a gambit. Keep in mind, that under this current plan, Fiat-Chrysler’s US operations will include no fewer than eight brands (Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram, Fiat, Alfa, Ferrari and Maserati). If history tells us anything, it’s this: mo’ brands, mo’s problems. Unless Fiat plans on replacing its damaged US-based brands (Chrysler and Dodge) with its relatively unknown Italian brands (Fiat, Alfa or Lancia), it’s looking at a GM-sized branding mess in the US market. And with Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Alfa planning on sharing components and platforms across most of their models, effective differentiation won’t be easy.

But hey, after 15 years, America is getting Alfa-Romeos again. Plenty of pistonheads will be more than happy to set aside common sense to celebrate that development.

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23 Comments on “Fiat Five Year Plan: Alfa-Romeo Lives, Coming To America....”


  • avatar
    Brian E

    I’m not sure that bringing Alfa over is going to create a real branding problem for them. Chrysler is so irreparably damaged at this point that it can no longer play as a serious competitor to BMW, Audi, and the like. Alfa, on the other hand, is the perfect brand for this.

    The real problem is that Dodge and Chrysler are both competing for the same dollars. I expect one or the other to turn into a Mercury-like small volume badge engineered brand.

    The Fiat nameplate probably won’t be used for anything but the 500 and derivatives for now. In that sense it competes with Mini and is quite a bit different from Dodge, Chrysler, or Alfa.

    I’m disappointed that the Giulietta won’t be coming here right away. It looks fantastic to me. Hopefully the 159 replacement is equally great. Reason may give way to passion for me once these start showing up in US dealers.

  • avatar
    b1msus93

    Most Americans under 30 probably don’t even know Alfa Romeo.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian E

      I certainly do. Years of listening to Clarkson, Hammond, and May go on and on – and then pay up to the Italian car swear box – have seen to that.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      Brian,

      +1 – if it’s good enough for Clarkson, Hammond and May it’s good enough for me.

      Also, the praise heaped on Alfa by top gear makes me think of them as the ultimate anti-appliance. It’s a car for those who car about passion, driving and style it’s everything a camcord is not.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      @jmo, “Also, the praise heaped on Alfa by top gear makes me think of them as the ultimate anti-appliance. It’s a car for those who car about passion, driving and style it’s everything a camcord is not.”

      We’ll see whether that’s still the case when they start building them on Chrysler platforms. And will they have Fiat or Chrysler quality?

      In any case, even if the cars are good, going from zero to 85K cars (roughly Audi’s current US sales level) in two years (from 2012 to 2014) is a pipe dream. As is 500K global sales from today’s 100K. I can’t believe the investment community is buying this story …

    • 0 avatar
      moedaman

      “b1msus93April 21st, 2010 at 3:35 pm
      Most Americans under 30 probably don’t even know Alfa Romeo.”

      And the people who do remember Alfa, sure as hell won’t buy one. Unless they buy two (one for spare parts).

    • 0 avatar
      Brian E

      @th009 – maybe I’m letting my passion rule me, but my gut feel is that Alfa will be an unexpected hit here amongst a younger group of affluent buyers. These people – myself included – realize that ordinary cars hit a baseline level of competence long ago, and if they’re going to spend more than $30k on something it had better feel special inside and out. The 3-series and C-class have long been drained of any such specialness, regardless of any objective technical superiority that rarely comes into play in the real world. I think Audi’s recent success in the US is partly because they’ve been able to court these buyers successfully, but Alfa trumps them.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      @Brian E,

      They won’t have a critical mass of products until maybe 2014 — 2012 will be a single product only. How can you build an effective dealer network with that? And you need dealers in order to sell cars, no matter how good those cars are.

      On the other hand, if it’s going to be sold by your friendly neighbourhood Dodge dealer, they’ll never succeed in competing with the premium marques.

  • avatar
    Amendment X

    Ok, so is Marchionne trying to replace Chrysler with Alfa? Does he want to sell Alfas alongside Chryslers?

    I can understand (but I don’t know if I agree with) the strategy to get a foot in the door in the US market by buying the Chrysler Group, but can ANYONE see the long-term plan? Ferrari, Maserati, Jeep, and Ram will be fine. All of these brands are competitive in their respective segments.

    Maybe they’ll divide the remanining brands as Dodge/Fiat and Chrysler/Alfa? But why use four names when you can just use one?

  • avatar
    Morea

    By the way the dash between Alfa and Romeo hasn’t been used in almost 40 years.

  • avatar
    nicke

    I need another ALFA! I’d like a new one. A 3-door MiTo would do me nice, or the Giulietta. I’m looking for a new car and I need something smallish and interesting. The Mini drives me nuts, (I cant stand the dinner-plate in the center of the console, and the gimmicky toggle switches are just ugly) there’s too much Bangle in the BMW’s, the new AUDI grille is too big and Honda has lost it. There’s really no new car in the 25-35k range that interests me. I like the Fiat 500 and would consider that, but I want an ALFA. But a RWD GTV6 replacement would make me really happy. (the Bertone Coupe and GTV6 in garage maybe not so much…) But I think the whole SUV thing is so over. Make nice station-wagons.

  • avatar
    jmo

    HERNDON, Va., April 1 /PRNewswire/ — Audi today reported its March U.S. sales set a record for the month, rising 33.5% from a year earlier. The results also helped Audi achieve the best first-quarter sales since it began marketing cars in the U.S., and sent 2010 year-to-date sales up 34.8%.

    In the most recent month, Audi U.S. sales reached 8,589 luxury cars and SUVs, compared to 6,433 in March 2009. That topped the previous March sales record set in 2007. First quarter sales in 2010 topped the previous record set in the first quarter of 2007. Strong demand across the Audi model lineup led to the record U.S. March results.

    With the economy in full recovery mode (as indicated by the Audi numbers)- at least here in Boston (several neighbors have recently purchased A5, S5, S5 cabrio, A6, and A8s and Q5 and Q7s )- I’d say perhapse the time is right for the introduction of a new luxury car line in the US. I’m sure some of my ‘hood might be interested in something Italian.

  • avatar
    jmo

    I think Audi’s recent success in the US is partly because they’ve been able to court these buyers successfully, but Alfa trumps them.

    As noted above, Audi has done very well even without a strong reputation for reliablity. I certainly think there a a significant number of consumers who would be willing to trade a boring but reliable appliance for something with a little style and (to quote Clakrson & May) “passion”.

    • 0 avatar
      Morea

      I know several people that have old* Alfas and new Audis, so maybe there is significant market overlap.

      *All Alfas in the US are now at least 15 years old (with a very few special import exceptions).

  • avatar
    bmoredlj

    The headline said everything I need to know. Bring me Alfas and I’ll be happy. I might even buy one.

  • avatar
    getacargetacheck

    All this talk about Alfa Romeo reminds me of the cries from the fanboy corner pleading that GM would start importing Holdens because they have performance, are exciting, have RWD, have character, etc. So the GTO and G8 finally arrive and are a giant bust. Same with Alfa. Judging by those (lack of) global sales, apparently even the Italians don’t like them anymore. Personally, the pictures I’ve seen of the new Alfas look dull and ugly. Chrysler dealers, btw, have tried selling Alfas already (for those of us old enough to remember). Let’s just say they weren’t very good at it.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian E

      For what it’s worth I never thought the Holden importation strategy was a good idea. The GTO was marketed horribly and had several deficits as a complete package when compared to competitively priced competitors like the G35 coupe.

      I think there’s also a pretty big difference between turning Holdens into Pontiacs, a brand long associated with rental cars and Cavalier rebadges, and bringing back a marque like Alfa into the entry luxury market. With Alfa the bad memories have faded for many (or for some of us, never been built).

  • avatar

    It’s an exciting day for Alfa Romeo fans. Sure the cars of 2012 won’t be the same as what were last sold here in 1995, let alone in the 1950s or 1960s… but all Alfas have a penchant for passion and performance.

    I predict that if they come in at a reasonable price point, and with a dealer network for support, they can do quite well. Price and inconsistent service did Alfa some harm here in the past, but the cars themselves were reasonably well-built and reliable. To say nothing of being fun to drive — that’s why thousands remain on the road 15 years after the last were sold on this continent.

    Alfa’s withdrawal was more than a decade after Fiat’s. Since that time, Italian high-performance cars have been sold here but nothing that the average person could afford or use for practical daily driving. The Fiat 500 and the newly announced Alfa line could turn that upside down. And millions of Italian Americans and fans of Italian culture and engineering will be thrilled by this new option.

    Alfa may just give the Germans a run for the money.

  • avatar

    I don’t know how Chrysler dealers will handle selling a full line of Alfa Romeos, in addition to all the new models planned for Dodge, Chrysler, and Jeep plus the Fiat 500. Sounds like there will be a lot of overlap and duplication.

  • avatar
    lilpoindexter

    YES!!! A Jeep Liberty with an Alfa badge slapped on the grille, and a $10,000 price premium over a lesser liberty….where do I sign up?

  • avatar
    pleiter

    The AR’s on the streets in Turin right now, look hot. Small, but hot in an aggressive sense of the word. Just send what ya got right now.

  • avatar

    VW brought back the New Beetle, even though the Germans thought it never should have been done again.
    BMW successfully resurrected the Mini Cooper.
    Chevy has its Camaro and Dodge has the Challenger.

    I could see an updated low volume Spider Veloce as a halo car to bring customers into Alfa showrooms.


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