By on December 4, 2019

An article posted yesterday on these renowned pages really got me thinking about how certain brands seem to not have much of a future in the automotive landscape of 2020 — and beyond. If you didn’t click the link there, you may be wondering which brand I’m presently speaking of. It is of course Alfa Romeo.

Let’s do some Italian-style pondering.

Throughout a history dating back to 1910, Alfa Romeo was a car maker of the sporty variety. Its creations went racing and its passenger cars were built with passion and flair. Almost always a loser of money for whomever owned it, the company stood on its own two feet for nearly two decades as debts went unpaid. By 1930, Alfa fell into the hands of the fascist Italian government. It stayed securely in those governmental arms until 1986, at which time it went to Fiat, where it continued to lose money. Alfa withdrew from the North American market after 1995, after it failed to sell enough of the beautiful 164 (above), which underneath was a Saab and a Fiat.

In more recent announcements, the company’s portfolio became slimmer than it was supposed to be. Venerable model names assigned for rebirth were returned to the dust bin. As FCA struggles with expenditures and heads towards a merger with PSA, one must wonder if a niche manufacturer with a poor track record of sales, profitability, reliability, and a spotty dealer network outside Europe is worth continuing. Keep in mind here that FCA has Maserati in its brand portfolio, which sells very similar vehicles but calls them luxury in order to score a higher profit margin.

But perhaps I’m thinking about it the wrong way. Perhaps a storied racing brand with Italian style is ripe for revival in today’s bland automotive landscape of crossovers. Though I haven’t yet made up my mind one way or the other, I’m leaning towards axing the brand with the green grass snake on its crest. Cut bait and sell it to an investor, where it can join the MGs of the automotive world.

Let’s see how many of you agree with my pessimism. Off to you in the comments, commandatorio.

[Image: Alfa Romeo]

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

Recommended

70 Comments on “QOTD: Alfa Romeo’s Time Come Due?...”


  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    By my count Alfa has 14 “premium” competitor brands in the US. Do we really need that many? Can the market support that many? Especially given how homogeneous luxury vehicles are becoming.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I agree and have been asking the same question for years.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Well, the luxury market was growing at the time Alfa was brought back, and it still is. Given that there are several highly marginal players (Acura, Infiniti, Cadillac, etc), a “new” brand selling higher-end cars with some personality might have had a shot at carving a niche for itself.

      The business case for bringing Alfa over made sense – the vehicles were just poorly executed from day one. Apparently that’s improved, but first impressions are the ones that count. FCA really blew it on this one.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        I think it’s better to look at this in terms of individual models. What models drive each premium brand, and what would happen if they disappeared? Viewed in this light, some brands look different than others.

        Mercedes, BMW, Audi, and Lexus are the big boys, all of which have major players in lots of different segments. They’re not going anywhere.

        Infiniti’s products that matter are two crossovers – QX50 and QX60, one SUV – QX80, and one sedan – Q50. None of these are dominating in the segment but I’m sure at least the QX60 and QX80 are solidly profitable and it would be hard for Nissan to replace those profits. The future of Infiniti is probably a consolidating network and no real other change.

        Acura has a single world-dominating product, the MDX, and another one with a good position in the segment, the RDX. Acura and its dealers could stay alive just fine with just those two products to sell. Nothing’s going to happen with Acura.

        Genesis made a baffling choice to do the G70 before the GV80. The bigger sedans are Korean-market mainstays but will do low volume here. The GV80 will be playing in a segment that has some room. What happens depends almost entirely on how the GV80 and future GV70 compete; without them, there probably isn’t volume to run a dealer channel.

        Jaguar has no product that’s a major player in its segment. JLR dealers would probably be fine with becoming Land Rover dealers. I think the Jaguar Death Watch is entirely warranted.

        Alfa Romeo is selling vehicles on an orphan platform that haven’t captured consumers’ eyes, have poor ratings from a variety of sources, and aren’t all that profitable for the maker. I’d bet they pull out of the US, at least.

        Volvo has two solidly popular CUVs in their segments (XC90 and XC60) with a distinct brand image and value proposition, and enough volume to keep dealers happy. It will be fine.

        Lincoln only has an irreplaceable player in one segment — the full-size SUV, with the Navigator. Whether Ford can correct the Aviator launch will determine whether Lincoln matters enough to stay or not.

        Cadillac… same as Lincoln; the only product that matters is the Escalade. But Cadillac just totally botched the concept of the XT6, and the sedans have beecome afterthoughts even in their shrinking segment. I don’t see where Cadillac goes from here.

  • avatar
    Morea

    Americans are by and large not Alfa enthusiasts and never have been. Beyond the spider, sales have never been high.

    When commenters complain ironically that the backup camera is lower quality than other brands you can see clearly that they are missing the point of owning an Alfa.

    In the end the market for driver’s cars is very small in the US.

    Most people buy based on color selection and how comfy the seats are.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Correct the number of people who care about driver’s cars number in low thousands not high millions. Alfa positioned itself in an already saturated “near luxury” (whatever that means) market. Selling such cars is a losing game in today’s market. They really never had a chance unless being a niche player was the goal.

      People hate driving because lets face it given traffic, road conditions, speed camera, etc there is little enjoyment out there. Thus all they care about is comfort, reliability, safety and tech. Interior nice-ness and a cool brand (IE: BMW) gives you bonus points. Vehicles with character, soul and style are frowned upon. Stiff riding, loud or troublesome are poison. If its not available in white, black or some bland grey then points are lost.

      Alfa pretty much checks all the wrong boxes with today’s average consumer.

    • 0 avatar
      Rutlefan1

      This exactly. Before Alfa came back Mazda was my go-to make (Germans outside of Porsche no longer do it for me, and Porsches have become too expensive). I found it discouraging that one couldn’t throw a rock without hitting five Camrys yet Mazda struggled to sell the fantastic ’12+ Mazda 6. Americans just don’t prioritize dynamics. If they did the Giulia and Stelvio would be huge sellers. My ’17 Giulia drives like a 4-door auto version of the ’07 Cayman S I had to give up when kids came. I thank Alfa for giving me an affordable car that feels that good again. Without buying a very well-used 991 911 I didn’t think I’d get back to that perfectly dialed-in experience again.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    So, in other words Alfa has had a dubious past with few bright spots. There is no love or nostalgia for Alfa making it’s future in a highly competitive world even more dubious. FCA needs to put that research and development money into Jeep and Ram to keep those winners competitive and forget about the half-dozen Alfa lovers

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Well yeah of course but that’s not how its going to play out. FCA sunk way too much money into it and right now FCA is flying high. Unless FCA/PSA tanks hard, Alfa is going nowhere. Even if the marque were for sale, the Chinese firms have already absorbed the rights to MG and Saab (NEVS), why would they need Alfa?

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    I was looking forward to the new Alfa cars – any vehicle that is a “driver’s car” instead of a boring blob is a good thing. Someone needs to take the mantle from BMW since they don’t seem very interested in keeping it. But then the reports about the reliability of the Giulia was enough to give me pause. Not that I’m in the position to buy (or lease one), but it would have made an interesting toy once they hit the used market.

    But now an off-warranty Alfa has about as much appeal as a BMW.

    • 0 avatar
      Mnemic

      Can you post a link to the reliability reports? Thanks

      • 0 avatar
        dividebytube

        No report per se – just C&Ds experience:
        https://www.caranddriver.com/reviews/a23145269/alfa-romeo-giulia-quadrifoglio-reliability-update/

        And Consumer Report’s experience:
        https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2017/03/consumer-reports-2017-alfa-romeo-giulia-ti-basically-lives-dealer-service-bay/

        • 0 avatar
          dividebytube

          and R&T
          https://www.roadandtrack.com/car-culture/a10308214/alfa-romeo-giulia-issues/

          and the list of TSBs:
          https://jalopnik.com/here-are-all-the-problems-that-fca-has-attempted-to-fix-1797069082

          • 0 avatar
            Rutlefan1

            Those are very early cars, delivered to the press without post-factory updates normally done by dealers. The data in Europe, which is much more extensive than that of NA, shows Giulias to be more reliable than the German competition. One (The U.K.’s What Car? IIRC) had Alfa Romeo the only non-Japanese brand in the top five for reliability. In U.S., going by the forums and Facebook, the 2.0 version at least has been very trouble-free. The high-strung QV seems more hit and miss.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          In fairness, those appear to be from early-build models, and I suspect many of those issues have already been straightened out. Even if that’s the case, though, there’s no getting around it: the only shot at success this brand had was to prove it wasn’t making junk anymore, and they blew it badly.

          • 0 avatar
            dividebytube

            True – overall reliability could actually be okay now. I couldn’t find anything (quickly) at TrueDelta, Alfa is too new and sold in low numbers.

            Perhaps the reliability fear is overblown but the perception is there.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            Why would anyone think they have fixed the problems or that they can? Fiat knew this car had to be right out of the box and instead it was as junky as everything else they’ve ever made. Two years in a row they gave CandD Quadrifoglios that broke down at lightning lap. That isn’t bad luck. They can’t build a car.

            All these people saying the regular Alfas are enthusiasts cars have an interesting idea of what constitutes an enthusiasts car. Mandatory automatic transmission? Check. Chicom-compliant turbo-heat-pump-with particulate emissions and a red-line more appropriate for a diesel than a sports car? Check. Makes me want to take the long way home! Not.

          • 0 avatar
            Morea

            The specification sheet for the Giulia 4-cylinder states:

            “Redline on the Instrument Cluster 5,500 rpm
            Max. Engine Speed 6,200 rpm”

            6200 rpm is typical for a 2 liter 4-cylinder.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            Are you saying that the automatic transmission will hold gears 700 RPM past the redline, or are you saying that Alfa claims the engine won’t blow apart until 700 RPM past redline? The Honda 2.0T in the Accord has its power peak at 6,500 RPM and is redlined at 6,750 RPM. I suppose it isn’t fair to hold the Alfa to those standards though, as Honda offers a manual transmission while Alfa offers prettier colors.

          • 0 avatar
            Morea

            Honda 252 HP
            Alfa 280 HP

            The Honda has to rev higher to make less power.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            The speed advantage that an Accord EX-L 2.0T automatic has over a Giulia makes it look like the Alfa’s HP advantage is imaginary. I’d think the Alfa should launch better, but the last CD test of their accord netted 0-100 in 12.7 compared to 14.7 for a non-broken Alfa. 280 hp @ 5200 RPM means the Alfa would have to be making 283 hp at that engine speed, or 92.4% of the peak ft/lbs of torque it produces at 2,000 RPM. It makes 280 HP like Fiat makes a good car: Only in the imaginations of their buyers.

          • 0 avatar
            Morea

            ToddAtlasF1 wrote: “280 hp @ 5200 RPM means the Alfa would have to be making 283 hp at that engine speed”

            So you are saying that, 280 hp @ 5200 RPM means the Alfa would have to be making 283 hp at 5200 RPM?

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            The engine would need to be making 283 ft/lbs of torque at 5,200 RPM, as horsepower is calculated based on measured torque times engine speed divided by 5252.

          • 0 avatar
            Morea

            Eurocompulsion LLC, a tuner, has HP/torque curves for the Alfa engine.

            They show 273 HP/269 ft-lbs @ 5381 rpm for the stock engine. (Numbers appear to be derived from wheel HP measurements so drivetrain loss is likely an estimate.)

            Doesn’t fit the 5252 rule exactly, but close.

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      X-axis: Reliability (lowest to highest left to right)

      Y-axis: Desirability (lowest to highest bottom to top)

      Now plot all the world’s automakers on that graph.

      A very few will show up at the far right side. Unfortunately, they will generally be in the lower right quadrant, not the top right.

      Some will show up near the top of the graph. Unfortunately, most will be in the top left quadrant, not the top right.

      Many automakers will show up in the bottom left quadrant (low reliability plus low desirability) – some farther into that quadrant, some clustered just below and to the left of the origin.

      If any OEM cracks the code for bringing reliable *and* desirable products to market, the sky is [potentially] the limit.

      • 0 avatar
        scott25

        If you made the graph in the 60’s, Mercedes would have been high in both categories, and so would Volvo at one point. But otherwise your point stands, you can’t have both.

  • avatar
    Thomas Kreutzer

    A couple of hundred years ago, there were no brand names. There was no need for them because local craftspeople made almost everything the average person needed. It was shipping and mass produced products that sparked the need for brand names because the average consumer didn’t know who was making what and needed a way to gauge which products were quality and which weren’t. When people found a good product, they remembered the name and brand loyalty became a thing.

    Brands were great when vehicles were produced by different companies but as those once unique brands have fallen under larger and larger corporations, I think the need for them has vanished. As much as I hate losing venerable old brands – I still lament the loss of Oldsmobile and Pontiac – I don’t see a future filled with many different car brands. There’s no need for them now.

    I can understand a large corporation retaining specific brands in their home country, where an established brand name has a history and real recognition, but spending millions to establish or rehabilitate a foreign brand in another country seems like a waste. Other than some of the prestige brands – where the companies can get people to pay for the name – I don’t see the point anymore. They’re virtually all cookie cutter cars under the skin these days so just make your car on the same line as all the others, slap on the preferred local brand then get it where it needs to go. Simple.

    If the companies want to save real money, that’s how they can do it. Look at the markets they want to sell in, go through their portfolios and chose the best brand names for those locales, and then make and send cars branded with those names to those places. Profit. Don’t spend huge money on ad campaigns to flog your Opels, Vauxhauls, Fiats, Alfas, Trabants or whatever the hell else you’ve got in places where people have never heard of them – especially when you sell the same thing a half mile down the road under a name that people in the region already like and appreciate.

    And if you still want to make money off those old names? – Put ’em on a retro t-shirt. The hipsters will love it.

    • 0 avatar
      hpycamper

      For some of us, cars are special. Turning them into a commodity will make them less special, less desirable.

      • 0 avatar
        Thomas Kreutzer

        It should make them more special. Especially since it will be harder for people to get ones from other regions. Only REAL enthusiasts will be able to have them.

        Now excuse me while I put some Altezza badges on my Lexus.

    • 0 avatar
      scott25

      Brands are only becoming more powerful with time, just look at social media “influencers”

    • 0 avatar
      stuart

      Agreed on all counts. I think the term for this is “badge engineering.”

      For an extreme example, visit a piano store in the US sometime; they have dozens of brands, many storied American names, all represented by plastic badges that literally snap onto the cast-iron piano frames.

  • avatar
    Mnemic

    FCA cannot afford to rebuild Alfa. They sell Jeeps, Trucks and muscle cars – I don’t see any money left over to rejuvenate long dead brands that require billions to re-start. Now who would want Alfa? VW would just reskin Audis and probably price them a slot above – if they’d even be interested.

    I think the same company that bought Aston could make something work though. They would have to use parts from other manufacturers but the end product could be an uber rare and unique car meant for enthusiasts, which are the only people buying Alfas anyway. No average entry level luxury car buyer is going to by-pass the BMW or Mercedes badge for something nobody has heard of before, that costs the same.

    Just the way it is.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I was under the impression FCA already spent a boat load of money on Alfa, what’s to rebuild?

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        “what’s to rebuild?”

        Apparently their reputation

        Perhaps FCA can work on the return of De Soto

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          Rebuilding Alfa’s rep is a job for Jesus…and he might fail.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Among our monied betters, Alfa at this point has more appeal and a better reputation than Cadillac. Not doing too bad I’d say, they just happen to launch into a USDM already flush with near luxury brands and that’s before Tesla really came on the semi-mainstream scene.

      • 0 avatar
        Mnemic

        The giorgio platform alone cost 2-3 billion, after that they were going to build a range of SUV’s and a few halo performance coupes for Alfa. Sounds great, but that money comes from ram, dodge and jeep profits intended to be updating and keeping them fresh. With the cake they blew on the giorgio platform they have to make it back, so expect Jeep and Dodge to be using that platform going forward, Maserati as well. Original giorgio wouldn’t fit a V8, but the updated version now will. That platform will underpin everything now that Alfa proved to be a dud.

  • avatar

    Mama likes the Alfa when we are in the market for a new vehicle, in a few months when one car goes off lease…I’m hoping she’ll actually like the F-type better.

  • avatar
    IBx1

    You know what? They never sold a manual here after coming back, so *Italian arm slap*

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I wanted these guys to succeed. For all its’ faults, the Guilia has something sorely lacking in today’s market: personality. I also understand it’s a blast to drive. I’m still irrationally attracted to it. If the brand had proven its’ reliability issues were behind it, I’d consider taking a shot on one a couple of years down the line. But as it stands, there’s no way I’d buy one – not new and certainly not used.

    Net result: we will probably lose an another interesting car when we can ill afford that. And that stinks.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      I agree, any originality on the affordable automotive landscape is sorely missing, but you can’t build what people don’t want. I for one would like to see car companies offer more of what people do want. If people want crossover/SUVs then offer some that are rugged/sporty/luxurious/etc. instead of all these plain Jane mommy mobiles with tiny turbo fours

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Yes the interesting cars are dead or dying.

      Tis a sad time to be an enthusiast.

      • 0 avatar
        dividebytube

        well unless you are wealthy… luckily the Miata still exists, and the entry-level Mustang and Camaros. The Challenger and Charger are still available and are becoming a last of breed. The BRZ/86 and WRX/STi are still (relatively) affordable and hoonworthy. Civic R and even the Si are worth looking at too. I’m sure I missed a few. So not all is lost.

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          But there’s open speculation about the death of the Camaro (don’t put it past Mary – she’ll do it!) and once the Challenger, Charger, 300 platforms have run their course does FCA/PSA have the money to invest in a new generation?

          I look forward to a potentially turbo charged BRZ in the next gen and I keep my fingers crossed for a pure petrol Miata to remain a thing.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    It is too bad they don’t have a platform for a GTV to be a hard top competitor to the Miata. Though it is getting harder these days to build anything light weight and still meet safety standards. A lightweight 2+2 with a S2000ish* engine would be a hoot.

    *Needs more torque.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    According to Clarkson we should instead be lamenting the demise of Lancia.

  • avatar
    hpycamper

    Alfa Romeo is worth saving. Hire somebody from Toyota who can fix the reliability problems without hurting the driving experience and you will have a worthy car.

  • avatar
    slitno

    They should have become a niche player and buck the trend by offering manual tranny. They would have a small, but solid following. As it is – good riddance.

  • avatar
    scott25

    I can only see Alfa’s future as a plaything of a Chinese corporation who wants to take on Geely on their own turf. It’s future as an FCA brand is sealed because it doesn’t make sense as an EV brand, whereas Maserati does.

    • 0 avatar
      MoDo

      Bingo and if I am selling, I am selling now while the cars are still fresh. I’d package Lancia in with them as well. Alfa could work but the investment and years/decades required to take on BMW are a no-go for cash strapped FCA. I’d sell it and instantly use that money to get the other delayed projects back on the fast track. Charger/Challenger, large Jeeps etc.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    I don’t think I was ever as impressed with a car during a test drive as the Alfa Guilia. Basic RWD car, 7k dealer demo miles and I still loved it. Yes, it would be better with a manual, but the 8spd and 280hp four work while together, especially in sport mode. I was going to lease one, but overnight it went from doable to OMG, you want how much down?

    2017s are around 25k and as much as I like my VW, I was totally smitten with the Alfa, I’ve really considered ditching my Golf. You have to drive the Alfa to appreciate it. I liked it so much that I skipped the BMW store on the way home from the Alfa store. I knew the 3series I was considering (that I could afford) couldn’t compare in fun. Yes, there’s some FCA chintz to the inside in a car with a 40k sticker and reliability is unknown because not enough exist. But with everything turning into a blob shaped hatch now, as much as I love hatchbacks and wagons, I want a sedan to stand out now!

    Sadly, I think Alfa is done for in the US, for reasons everyone else has already brought up. I know that will kill the resale of an Alfa and that getting it serviced would be tough. But I really liked that car and can’t imagine the 505 hp Quadrafoglio. The regular RWD car with winter package, I don’t need much else.

  • avatar
    Morea

    Sometimes you have to have the nerve to go talk to Giulia the pretty girl in class rather than hang around with your sister Lexus.

  • avatar
    Mike6024

    As an owner of an Alfa Romeo I suppose I reluctantly agree. I am not interested in the new models. I like the 4c of course but would never buy one. I’d like a 1967 Giulia sedan, but not the modern equivalent.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • pwrwrench: EEK! Seems like you got a citrus version leaving a sour taste.
  • Lie2me: Really? Escalade or Denali, yes, but your basic Tahoe is pretty much the standard all weather/all terrain...
  • Whatnext: “And if you have a habit of driving in places where children literally materialize from the road...
  • ajla: I think you may have given the incorrect link. The introduction states “However, it does not indicate a...
  • indi500fan: The latest issue of Hot Rod has an engine dyno test comparing the 5.3 LS port injection vs direct. The DI...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Matthew Guy
  • Timothy Cain
  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Chris Tonn
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber