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.