The Truth About Cars » Alfa The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 16 Apr 2014 05:18:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Alfa Audiacious Targets: Alfa Wants To Outsell Fiat In America Mon, 11 Feb 2013 16:32:47 +0000

Alfa Romeo will outsell Fiat in the United States once the sporty brand gets a foothold in its new market, according to Peter Grady, head of network development for the Chrysler Group, in an interview Reuters.

After nearly 20 years of absence, Alfa is coming back to America in the 4C sports car, due to arrive late this year.

“We think that Alfa Romeo will have a little bit larger volume than Fiat will have,” Grady said.

Outselling Fiat is not much of a target. In 2012, Fiat sold 43,772 units in the U.S.

]]> 39
Pre-Production Review: 2013 Dodge Dart Mon, 11 Jun 2012 16:23:18 +0000

The last time Chrysler made a serious attempt at the C-segment was in 1995 with the Neon. High initial sales were soon followed by less-than-stellar crash scores, a redesign that put off buyers, the death of the Plymouth brand, and the unholy offspring that was the Dodge Caliber. With Fiat needing to add a “40 MPG CAFE” vehicle to the fleet to continue their acquisition, the Dodge Dart was born. This first fruit of the Fiat/Dodge marriage isn’t just a rebadged Alfa Romeo Giulietta (pronounced Juliet-ta), and there’s a reason for that. Dodge wants a bigger part of the pie since sedans account for 80% of the compact segment. Rather than “sedanify” the Giulietta, Dodge took the extra step of crafting an entirely new vehicle that shares little with the Italian organ donor. Can some Italian spice give Dodge what they need to compete with the growing compact sedan segment? Dodge invited us to a regional preview event to find out.


I used to be a Mopar man. My folks have bought them for years and my first two new cars were a 1997 Eagle Vision and a 2000 Chrysler LHS. Keeping that era of Pentastar product in mind, the Dodge Dart fits right in with a tail straight out of the 1999 Dodge Intrepid. Before you flame, I think the look is far more attractive than many small cars on the market. What sets the Dart apart however is the aggressive front end with a broad grille and ginormous headlights. The front end styling is almost enough to make you forget this is the C-segment. So far, so good.


Inside the Dart you’ll find a cabin light-years ahead of the Caliber. While there are still plenty of hard plastic bits to be found, the cabin actually has more soft touch points than the Cruze or Sentra. While the styling may turn off some customers, the thick-rimmed steering wheel might hook some swing-voters. Dodge either has high sales goals or isn’t concerned about dwell time on dealer lots as there are around a dozen different interior trim color and style combinations. I’d call that good for the shopper, questionable for the profitable future of the Dart. Base SE models skip air conditioning and power door locks and use a lower grade of seat fabric to keep prices low. A quick look at the lineup indicates that Dodge expects the $17,995 SXT model to be the volume seller as it has the usual mix of equipment shoppers demand like A/C, keyless entry, folding rear seats and a sextuplet of speakers and a few extra cup holders. Despite considerable improvements, the Focus and Elantra are still better places to spend your time, but I’d rather be in the Dart than a Mazda 3 or a Cruze.


If you love gadgets, the Dart is the compact car of choice. With the exception of a self-parking feature like Ford’s Focus, the upper trim levels of the Dart allow some snazzy features you won’t find elsewhere in the segment. Starting with the Limited trim, the speedometer in the gauge cluster is replaced with a 7-inch LCD that is highly customizable. Unlike the LCD gauges Mercedes, Jaguar and Land Rover use, this one does more than just display a picture of a dial. Aside from navigation and infotainment displays, the system also doubles as the trip computer. Dodge also decided to allow a decent amount of customization from color choices to what date you see and where you see it. Also standard on the Limited model (optional on SXT and above) is Chrysler’s 8.4-inch uConnect system. Our brief time with the system showed that Chrysler has worked the Apple iDevice bugs out of the system. uConnect 8.4 now offers full voice command of your iDevice allowing you to say “play song, Red Solo Cup” and have the system do your bidding. The system works as well as Ford’s MyTouch but is far more responsive than Ford’s slow system.


Despite the PR folks not commenting on the long rumored 9-speed transmissions, there was plenty of new metal to see under the hood. First up is the 2.0L engine. This is related to the Caliber’s 2.0L engine but only shares 20% of the parts. Most of the changes relate to smoothness and noise control, but power does get a slight bump to 160HP and 145lb-ft of torque. Next up is a 1.4L turbo Fiat engine almost directly transplanted from the Alfa. This “MutiAir” engine cranks out the same horsepower as the 2.0L but trumps with 184lb-ft of twist. Next up is the 2.4L engine (in the R/T model) which gets the same NVH improvements and incorporates MultiAir to boost power to 184HP and 171lb-ft of twist. MultiAir is Fiat’s way of saying that the intake valves on the 1.4L and 2.4L engines are actuated via solenoid-actuated hydraulic chamber that sits between the valve and the cam (at least on the 2.4L. The 1.4L doesn’t have an intake cam). The result is more controlled valve lift, the ability to remove the throttle body and some seriously complicated plumbing. What’s the reliability going to be like? Your guess is as good as mine. If you want to know more, check out this video. All engines can be mated to the 6-speed Fiat manual transmission while the 2.0 and 2.4 get the option of a 6-speed Hyundai-sourced slushbox and the 1.4 can be had with Fiat’s 6-speed dual dry clutch transmission.  How about that SRT Dart? The PR folks won’t say a word.



We had only a limited time and about 25 miles behind the wheel of two Limited trim Darts, so bear that in mind. The Dart uses a modified version of Giulietta’s suspension setup. If you think that gives you European handling, think again. The Dart weighs about 300lbs more than the Giulietta and the engineers softened the suspension and used softer bushings all around. While our brief cloverleaf-on-ramp-skidpad tests revealed admirable grip and less body roll than I would have assumed, the Dart loses its composure rapidly on broken pavement.

The base 2.0L engine and the 6-speed automatic are a the combination most owners will end up with. The pair work well together and never felt flustered in city traffic. The 1.4L turbo is more engaging and since it has more torque than even the 2.4L R/T engine it would be my engine of choice. The manual transmission had surprisingly long throws which I found cumbersome and tiring. Fortunately clutch pedal feel is good with a medium firm spring and very linear engagement. The 1.4L turbo didn’t suffer from turbo lag like some forced-induction mills and the extra twist is a welcome companion making the manual transmission easier to live with in real-world driving. Dodge didn’t have a dual clutch transmission available to test, so check back for a full review when the Dart starts shipping.

A wise man once told me that everything in the $12,000-$120,000 vehicle market competes on value. The question that kept coming to the lips of the masses assembled was: would you buy the Dart over X? The response was usually a long pause followed by a soft no. It’s not that the Dart is a bad car, it is solidly class competitive. So what’s the problem? Given a choice between the Ford Focus and the Dart, or the Hyundai Elantra and the Dart, the Dart comes in second. Why? Brand image.

Hyundai has spent the last decade producing consistently better products, but that’s not the entire reason for their recent success.  While the Darts offers more “whiz-bang” than the Elantra, the Korean alternative is slightly better put together and cheaper. That’s the hook. If the Dart was even $1,000 cheaper it would be one of the best choices in the segment. Still, if you’re in the market for a compact sedan, the Dart should be towards the top of your list, certainly above the Corola and Cruze. If you’re a tech-lover, place the Dart higher on your list, if you’re a technophobe, drop it to the middle.  Either way, be sure to stop by the Ford and Hyundai/Kia dealer before you import something from Detroit.


Dodge invited us to a regional event and allowed us unaccompanied drives in two pre-production Dodge Dart Limited vehicles.

Oddly enough, free beer and BBQ was also on tap.

2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Interior, Storage seat, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, trunk, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Interior, LCD gauge cluster, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Engine, 2.0L Tigershark four cylinder, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Exterior, Front, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Exterior, front, grille, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Engine, 1.4L Fiat MultiAir Turbo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Engine, 1.4L Fiat MultiAir Turbo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Exterior, rear, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Exterior, Rear, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Exterior, rear, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, trunk, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, interior, driver's side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Interior, Dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, interior, steering wheel, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, interior,  Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

]]> 146
Avenger, Grand Caravan Marked For Death. Is The Dodge Brand On Its Way Out? Mon, 10 Oct 2011 21:53:20 +0000

With Chrysler, Dodge, Ram and Jeep brands consolidating into single dealerships as part of Chrysler’s “Project Genesis” dealer overhaul, CEO Sergio Marchionne is voting overlapping models off the island, starting with Dodge’s Grand Caravan and Avenger. Automotive New [sub] quotes Marchionne saying

We cannot have the same type of vehicle in the showroom because the consumer is not stupid. We’re not going to create the confusion and conflict in the showroom.

Dodge’s minivan (which outsells its Chrysler T&C sibling, albeit at lower margins) and midsized sedan will be replaced in 2013 by a single crossover, based on the next-generation minivan platform. A compact crossover, based on a Fiat platform, will replace the Avenger “after 2014.” Oh, and the subcompact is definitely off. In other words, you can pretty much forget the product plans unveiled two years ago at Chrysler’s five year business plan.

Though Marchionne claims that killing the two Dodges is about “not confusing the customer,” there’s another possibility: with Alfa-Romeo scheduled for a US launch, with a lineup that will eventually include the Giulia midsized sedan (which will form the basis of the next-gen Chrysler 200), a compact CUV, the 4C sportscar, the MiTo subcompact, the Giulietta compact hatch, and possibly a rear-drive flagship, it’s entirely possible that these Dodge cuts foreshadow the phase-out of the Dodge brand. After all, both brands cultivate a sporting image, but base most of their products on mass-market models. Both are on the “emotional” side of the brand spectrum, and both rely heavily on the color red in their branding. If the Avenger and 200 were insufficiently differentiated for Marchionne’s taste, how will Dodge and Alfa distinguish their shared Compact, Compact CUV, and LX-platform flagships? More importantly, why else spin off the Ram brand?

Of course, there’s no way Chrysler would admit such a plan until the Alfa invasion force is ready… which likely won’t be until 2014, when (if?) the all-important midsizer arrives. And Marchionne certainly seems to like having a fat brand portfolio, so perhaps he is comfortable with keeping both brands. But the issue has certainly occurred to him, as he has publicly acknowledged that

The level of competition between these two brands is tremendous because they are both going after the same company. Dodge is the American muscle car, while Alfa is the European muscle car. How we dovetail these two brands is extremely important.

Of course, that was back in 2009, about 15 or 20 iterations of Chrysler Group’s product plans ago. At the time Marchionne was also publicly admitting that Alfa might not make it. But now that Fiat is behind Alfa, and Dodge’s already-lean lineup is going on a diet, the prospect of Alfa replacing Dodge seems very real. And if it doesn’t happen, Chrysler Group is going to have some six-brand dealers, and even more tough differentiation decisions. Stay tuned…

]]> 82
Piech Still Has The Hots For Alfa Tue, 01 Mar 2011 17:53:28 +0000

Ferdi Piech is trying his hand at instigating a velvet revolution. He is dangling huge sales increases at Alfa in front of workers and customers, hoping that they string up Marchionne and ask Volkswagen to take over Alfa. Or something along these lines. Anyway, Piech said in Geneva that Volkswagen could nearly quadruple the annual sales of Alfa Romeo, if Fiat would only do the right thing and sell Volkswagen the ailing Alfa brand.

At yesterday’s Group Grope Night,Piech said that in five years, Volkswagen could pump Alfa’s sales up to nearly 400,000 cars, Automotive News [sub] reports.

Sergio Marchionne dismisses these advances by the 74 year old. Marchionne said last month: ” Marchionne handed out some advice while ha was at it: Piech should concentrate on fixing SEAT. Very funny. In the 80s, Volkswagen had to swoop in and rescue SEAT, after SEAT’s partner Fiat ran out of money.

Yesterday evening Piech said he can wait for the right moment to woo Alfa away: “Volkswagen has time.”

]]> 18
Only In Italy: Unions Demand Alfa Romance With Volkswagen Fri, 24 Dec 2010 11:58:27 +0000

Usually, unions take to the streets when their company is supposed to be sold. In Italy, unions demand the sale of their company.

In Milan, union representatives marched to the German consulate and handed the consul a letter in which they demand that Fiat lets Alfa go and that Volkswagen takes over.” With the letter delivered, the demonstrators grabbed megaphones and shouted: “Alfa has no chance with Fiat. We want Volkswagen!” Scusami?

Of course, all involved say that rumors of a wedding between an Italian Romeo and a Julia from Wolfsburg  are just rumors. Can’t you listen? It’s rumors!

Controsenso! According to Die Welt, VW Chairman Piech is forcing the pace of the Alfa Romeo romance. He just said that the brand “could be brought back to its old glory with little effort.” Piech is also said to be behind Volkswagen’s intensifying labor piracy in Italy: Volkswagen bought the Italian design house Giuigiaro, they hired Walter de Silva as Chief Designer, later they robbed Luca de Meo and Giovanni Perosino.  Meanwhile, Alfa is run by a German, Harald Wester.

When de Silva showed up in Milan in November, his visit made headlines, and local politicos expressed hopes that the Germans would come and swoop up the neglected bride. And now unions take to the streets and shout: ” We want Volkswagen! We don’t want Fiat!”

]]> 13
Alfa For Sale? Oh No No No No No Fri, 27 Aug 2010 12:59:31 +0000

„I’ve said Alfa is not for sale“ grouched Fiat’s Sergio Marchionne at journos who badgered him about Alfa possibly going to Volkswagen.  While he was at it, Sergio told Automobilwoche [sub] that business is so good that he probably will raise year-end guidance in the third quarter.

]]> 2
Italian Dressing: Volkswagen To Buy Alfa? Mon, 23 Aug 2010 08:53:05 +0000

Automobilwoche [sub] picked up strong signals that Volkswagen is interested in adding Alfa Romeo to their growing roster of brands. Last December, Marchionne had put Alfa on strategic review, and gave the brand, as Ed Niedermeyer put it so delicately, “a year to get its proverbial shit together.” They popped some Imodium, and  in April, Marchionne was “determined” to build the brand into a “full-line premium carmaker.” Nevertheless, here and there whispers had popped up that Alfa could be sold if the right buyer would show.

That buyer could be in Wolfsburg. A high ranking, albeit nameless Volkswagen executive told Automobilwoche that “Alfa is a globally renowned brand with sportive DNA and a long tradition. If such a treasure would become available, we should not hesitate for too long.”

In Wolfsburg, the project already is nicknamed “Italian dressing.”

A Volkswagen spokesperson added to the fire by saying: “We don’t comment on speculations about Alfa.”

]]> 27
Curbside Classic: 1975 Alfa Romeo Alfetta GT Coupe/GTV Wed, 12 May 2010 16:01:12 +0000

[An expanded and updated version of this CC is here]

We’ve had a lot of utilitarian vehicles last week, and even into this Monday, so with yesterday’s Corolla AE86 leading the charge, we’re going savor some delicious sporty coupes. This Alfetta GT coupe is an interesting follow-up to the AE86, for at least two reasons. Designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, this lovely Alfa was not only a feast for the eyes in that largely vulgar mid-seventies period, but was also an influential one. The Alfetta GT was one of a few key designs of the period that had a profound and lasting effect on styling trends, including the Corolla itself. The other reason: cars like the fast, cheap but ultra-reliable Corolla GT-S helped put Alfa out of business in the US.

At the time of the Alfetta GT, Japanese styling was lost in a wild and woolly jungle that was a bizarre mixture of US influences combined with homegrown touches (1975 Corolla at top). But for a few exceptions, it did not result in handsome or timeless cars. The clean and angular school of design that was particularly practiced by Bertone and others in Italy was adopted by the Japanese wholesale (1985 Corolla bottom), and even exaggerated. It was one of the more dramatic and sudden shifts of Japanese styling ever.

Of course, we can take that one step back further to explore the influences on the Alfetta GT. The 1968 Lamborghini Espada was one of the most, if not the most significant milestones in this trend. Its influence on the Alfa is all too obvious, keeping in mind that the Espada was a very long and low car, while the Alfetta sat on the platform of the sedan that was also the source of its name.

The Alfetta sedan that arrived in 1972 was a significant new vehicle for Alfa, inasmuch as it ushered in a new generation of cars that finally were not a direct evolution of the Giulia/Giulietta that dated back to the early fifties. The Alfetta sat on a new platform that located the transmission at the rear of the car, for better weight distribution. The rear axle used a de Dion axle, a solid hollow beam connecting the wheels but not carrying the weight of the differential and axle shafts.

The Alfetta and the GT were sold in the US starting in 1975, under a variety of names. The sedan petered out by 1979, but the coupe had much longer run, thanks to the implant of Alfa’s first modern V6 engine, which turned it into the GTV-6, from 1981 through 1986. That delicious confection of chrome induction tubes and soul-stirring mechanical music gave the Alfetta a new lease on life, especially in the performance-hungry US.  The 1.8 and 2.0 fours of the early version put out some 124hp, which was not sufficient in the face of competition from new small hot hatches like the VW GTI, the Corolla GT-S, and others, especially considering its higher price tag.

Alfa’s reliability woes were a heavy drag on its reputation and sales during the seventies. Alfas, like other certain European cars had been fundamentally well-built cars in the fifties and sixties, although always needing a bit more TLC than average. But during the seventies, many European makes suffered from the twin effects of having to make many drastic changes to meet US emission standards as well as the amenities Americans increasingly demanded. And labor problems exacerbated these issues.

Adding power windows and numerous other electric and electronic devices that were not well engineered, integrated or built caused a large portion of the woes, and it was endless failures with these peripherals that contributed to the declining rep of cars like Peugeot, Alfa and others that were once fairly easy to fix and simple cars. And vulnerability to rust was of course another significant factor, but then they weren’t the only ones to suffer that fate.

This particular example is a bit of an enigma to me, because I’m having a hard time placing it exactly in terms of its year of build and origin. I’m suspecting it may be a European model, because the bumpers don’t look like the larger ones fitted to US imports. But the speedometer reads in mph. BTW, that highly unique dash layout places the tachometer alone directly in front of the driver, and the other instruments including the speedometer are in the center nacelle. Looks cool, but lets just say it was not commonly replicated.

The Alfettas were delightful cars when they were running right. The rear transaxle made for almost perfect 50/50 weight distribution, and everyone raved about the superb handling. And the GTV-6 of course added that oomph and sound which became legendary. But Alfetta GTs have not become the collector cars that their timelessly beautiful predecessors are, and are languishing in a state of; well, similar to this one. Running, but not exactly completely intact. It was a pleasant surprise just to find this at all, ironically sitting in front of that symbol of enduring ruggedness, a might oak tree. Makes for a nice juxtaposition.

More Curbside Classics are here

]]> 23
Happy Birthday Alfa! Love, Zagato Mon, 26 Apr 2010 17:29:16 +0000

Alfa-Romeo is turning 100 this year, and to celebrate, all the famous Italian design houses are showing their own conceptual expressions of Alfa-ness. And strangely, from Pininfarina’s buttoned-up (and bizarrely-named) 2uettottanta, to Bertone’s over-the-top Pandion, the entries thus far have felt a little… lackluster. Have Alfa’s recent problems killed the mystique? As it turns out, Pinin and Bertone were just getting us warmed up for Zagato’s stab at an Alfa tribute, this stunning TZ3 Corsa. Loosely based on 8C running gear, the TZ3 Corsa is not only an Alfa tribute, it’s also a racing special commissioned by German collector Martin Knapp, and homologated to FIA GT2 spec. Which means it doesn’t just look good. You know, TTAC’s birthday is coming up too…

Oh... My... God... Zagato-Alfa-TZ3-Corsa-10 Zagato-Alfa-TZ3-Corsa-11 Zagato-Alfa-TZ3-Corsa-12 Zagato-Alfa-TZ3-Corsa-8 Zagato-Alfa-TZ3-Corsa-9 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 6
Montezemolo Out As Fiat Moves Towards Auto Spin-Off Tue, 20 Apr 2010 15:06:51 +0000

Fiat Chairman Luca Cordero Di Montezemolo will be leaving the firm to pursue a career in Italian politics, according to Automotive News [sub]. Montezemolo will remain on Fiat’s board, and will continue to serve as chairman of Ferrari, but he will be replaced atop the Fiat empire by vice-chairman and Agnelli family heir John Elkann. Fiat’s shares rallied considerably this morning, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, but not because Montezemolo is on the way out. Rather, Fiat has finally announced the news that speculators have been waiting patiently for: the firm now confirms that it plans to spin off its auto business.

Details of the spin-off are not immediately available, as Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne will not be presenting Fiat’s five-year plan until tomorrow. The spin-off is almost certain to center around Fiat, Abarth, Alfa-Romeo, and Lancia, although it appears that there may be a chance that Maserati could be bundled with Fiat Auto as well, despite being traditionally run as part of Ferrari. Fiat’s other industrial ventures, including its farm- and heavy-equipment manufacturing as well as its Iveco commercial vehicle unit will remain behind with the conglomerate. The main benefit of spinning-off Fiat’s auto business lays in future alliances: with a smaller market cap than the entire Fiat empire, a Fiat Auto unit could more easily enter equity exchanges and other alliances. Already holding a 20 percent stake in Chrysler (with up to 35 percent available for free), Fiat will likely use the spin-off to pursue greater control over the Auburn Hills-based automaker. And with Fiat’s auto business already generating half of the sprawling Fiat Group’s revenue according to the NYT, Marchionne clearly expects the newly spun-off unit to be leaner and more profitable. For now though, the most important variable in the future of Fiat auto isn’t even its spin-off or the replacement of its Chairman. Breaking Chrysler’s downward slump is key to Marchionne’s 5m-unit global survival strategy, and the gambit is far from paying off.

]]> 10
Alfa In America: Glorious Return or Cynical Ploy? Tue, 16 Feb 2010 16:00:04 +0000

Fiat/Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne seems ever more committed to the idea of bringing the Alfa Romeo brand to the United States, telling Automotive News [sub]:

I’m a lot more confident now that Alfa Romeo will reconstitute a product offering that is acceptable globally, and more in particular in the United States and Canada. There is a strong likelihood that the brand will be back here within the next 24 months

Alfa Romeo may have beaten many of the reliability and quality concerns that scuttled its last US-market campaign, but the brand isn’t out of the woods by a long shot. The European market has not been kind to Alfa in recent years, as the brand has consistently lost between €200m and €400m in each of the last ten years, bleeding sales and market share every step of the way. Jeremy Clarkson might wax lyrical about the romantic appeal of Alfa’s cars, but European buyers have largely shrugged their shoulders and  bought Skodas.

So steep has been the decline in the numbers of committed Alfisti that Marchionne has been flirting with shutting down Alfa altogether. First the brand was put in “strategic review,” then Fiat bundled it up with Maserati and Abarth into a new “sales channel.” New product development has been frozen until the new CEO of Alfa/Abarth/Maserati comes up with a strategy for the marginal brands, and the firm’s latest product has suffered from delays caused at least in part by awkwardness surrounding the initial decision to name it Milano after a city where Alfa no longer employs a significant number of workers.

And so we’re left with an awkward proposition: Alfa is not coming to conquer the states with the wind at its back, but rather bringing the brand stateside is seen as a cure for its troubles. Given the awkwardness that lingered after Alfa’s last departure from this market, this is a troubling proposition. Moreover, it highlights a questionable propensity in Marchionne’s leadership: when things aren’t working, take them global. Fiat’s Chrysler hook-up was an act of desperation that Fiat entered into when it couldn’t make an Opel deal work because, according to Marchionne’s analysis, Fiat would not be able to survive the maturation of the Chinese auto industry without the economies of scale available at 5m annual units of production. The same approach is being taken with Alfa: if it doesn’t work, find a way to build more and hope things work out for the best. Fiat’s recently-announced Russian joint venture cements the impression: Marchionne will go anywhere and partner with anyone in pursuit of volume.

In fairness, volume and economies of scale are fundamental to the business. Marchionne’s metric of volume per architecture is a highly rational approach to an industry in which distraction is a constant threat. But, as Automotive News [sub] reports, Marchionne already plans to build 700k units per year in the US by 2012 based on the new “Compact-Wide” platform that underpins the new Alfa Giuletta (neé Milano). And the plan is to brand those as seven different Chrysler Group nameplates. Given this in-house competition from brand-engineered platform-mates, Alfa has a tough row to hoe in rebuilding brand equity in the US.

And if Alfa had only to build brand loyalty on the strength of new Fiat platforms, there might be some room here for optimism. But one volume-boosting gambit begets others, and bringing Alfa to the US isn’t just about improving Fiat’s return on its new platform. A long-rumored RWD sedan based on Chrysler’s LY (300C, Charger) platform to be built in Brampton appears to be back on, with plans for a 2013 rollout. Fiat is also said to be considering other Alfa products based on Chrysler’s existing platforms. In short, Alfa may well be distinguished from Dodge by only styling, badges and some suspension/ECU tweaks. The enthusiasts are expecting traditional Italian recipes, but they’re far more likely to get the automotive equivalent the Olive Garden.

And then there’s the crucial issue of where these Alfas would be sold. Mercury’s questionable brand strategy may be driven by the needs of the dealer body, but Alfa’s US strategy will be top-down as there are no Alfa dealers left in the US. And its fighting its way into a Chrysler distribution network that’s already loaded down with brands. In addition to Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep, Fiat-Chrysler has spun Ram into its own brand, and a limited number of dealers will also host separate showrooms for the Fiat-branded 500 and 500 Abarth. Will Alfas appear as a limited lineup, destined for these Italian-themed urban sub-dealerships? Or will it attempt to offer a more complete lineup and run the risk of competing with the new, sportier, Fiat-based Dodge lineup? None of these options are without major challenges, just one of which being the problem of fitting all those brand logos on the side of dealerships.

None of which will convince enthusiasts and frustrated American Alfisti that bringing Fiat’s sporting brand stateside is a bad idea. Especially once speculation begins to coalesce around the possibilities of diesel drivetrains (not gonna happen) and another round of achingly beautiful junior-Maserati sportscars like the 8C (don’t hold your breath). But the automobile is big business, and a half-assed entry into the US market for all the wrong reasons won’t do Fiat/Chrysler any good. Nor will the new-wave Alfisti be particularly happy if the experiment once again ends with ignominious retreat. If the plan were to bring a strong brand with a successful product line into a market that showed signs of buying premium small hatches in serious volume (the well-established MINI brand saw volume slide beneath 50k units last year), We’d be the first to welcome the bella macchinas. Cynical and poorly thought-through ploys to boost platform volume and rescue dying brands just don’t inspire the same kind of enthusiasm.
]]> 32
What’s Wrong With This Picture: Fly Like Fiat, Sting Like A Dodge Edition Mon, 15 Feb 2010 17:50:44 +0000

Last week we took the counter-intuitive step of calling out Chrysler for refusing to hype its forthcoming products. “Let’s face it:” we wrote at the time, “Chrysler needs buzz, hype, awareness, or some kind of excitement surrounding its future generally and its forthcoming products in specific (if only in the irritating “teaser” format) almost as much as it needs anything else.” Well our wish has been granted, sort of, as this rendering of a 2013 B-segment Dodge hatchback has hit the internet [via AutoBirdBlog] to inspire rare optimism about the Chrysler Group’s future. For a number of reasons though, this is not the buzz-builder we were looking for.

First off, Chrysler has a huge hill to climb to even survive until this vehicle’s 2013 launch date. Chrysler had promised not to show any vehicles until three months before they go to market, so instead they’re showing pictures of a vehicle that’s three years out? Fiat’s Chrysler experiment will live or die with the 14 “interventions” they’ve got planned for the second half of this year. Because these vehicles are based on Chrysler’s current, uncompetitive stable, there is plenty of reason to be pessimistic about the actual improvements they will offer. Moreover, Chrysler will be dependent on these warmed-up leftovers until about 2013, when Fiat-platformed vehicles begin to replace the entire lineup.

Moreover, we’ve seen this particular Dodge subcompact before. The Hornet concept of 2006 showed the way to a Dodge subcompact hatchback, back when Chrysler was trying to get it built on a Chery or Nissan Versa platform. This new rendering looks distinctly different from the Hornet, but we’ve known for some time that Dodge wanted a vehicle like this in its lineup. And looking at the differences between the Hornet and this latest rendering offer yet another reason for Fiatsler pessimism: the new-look Hornet is “inspired” by Fiat’s European-model styling to the point that first impressions are of a re-grilled, re-tweaked Grand Punto. Equally troubling: its underpinning will likely be identical to the Alfa Romeo MiTo, which is sure to spearhead the rumored return of Alfa to the US (if it comes to pass).

Since Chrysler may or may not be listening, we’ll be way more specific this time: the fate of Chrysler rests on the “refreshed” vehicles debuting in the second half of this year. These are the products that will have to inspire faith in Fiat’s leadership of Chrysler, and therefore, these are the products that need to start being teased. Otherwise, the company won’t be around to capitalize on the hype generated by teasers like this one.

]]> 8
Fiat Denies Seeking Asian Bride, Alfa Sale Tue, 15 Dec 2009 16:55:58 +0000 Ciao!

Cross-cultural alliances are the craze of the moment in the auto industry, particularly in the form of Europeans hooking up with Japanese partners. Renault & Nissan, PSA & Mitsubishi, Volkswagen & Suzuki and Bertel Schmitt & Tomoko (sorry, couldn’t resist it!) are just a few examples. Fiat, on the other hand, is not following the crowd. reports that Luca di Montezemolo, Chairman of Fiat, is saying no ad un socio giapponese. “The others are doing what we have (already) done,” Montezemolo says. “This is a time when we have to be careful not get indigestion.” Is the Chrysler merger not sitting well on the stomach?

Fiat believes that it has a decent enough footprint in the East. It is building a plant in China with Guangzhou Automobile, has a joint venture with Tata motors and has close relations with Tata (Ratan Tata sits on Fiat’s board of directors). Luca di Montezemolo also believes that its stake in Chrysler will be sufficient to give Fiat a good presence in the Orient, with Jeep to be pushed hard in China.

In further developments, Mr Montezemolo took the opportunity to dismiss claims that Volkswagen would buy their Alfa Romeo marque after it was suggested by an analyst’s report. Bernstein analysts reckon that “Alfa may not be expensive and can sit on VW’s platforms.”. Mr Montezemolo dismissed this report by laying out plans for Alfa Romeo, “We will present the new Alfa … that substitutes the 147, and we think there are also very important opportunities for Alfa Romeo in the United States,” he said. “We have done everything that we said we would do. So give us a bit of time and we will do this,” Montezemolo pleaded. “There are big synergies with Chrysler that will allow us to cover market segments we are not present in.”. Fiat have laid out some mighty big plans and have Chrysler deep in the heart of them. But it is one thing having big plans and another thing executing them correctly. Let’s hope it goes well for Fiat and they they don’t end up with an embarrassing broken nose. At least, I can resist that joke.

]]> 12