Alfa Romeo has revealed plans to launch a rear-wheel-drive flagship saloon in 2014

Alfa Romeo has revealed plans to launch a rear-wheel-drive flagship saloon in 2014 as part of another shake-up of its future product programme. However, Fiat bosses have axed plans for a large luxury Alfa SUV. It has been dropped in favour of the new range-topper.

In plans revealed to investors, Fiat says that it is determined for Alfa Romeo to become a global competitor in the ‘near premium’ market that is defined by Volkswagen and other makers such as Volvo. The plans also seem to suggest that Alfa will be partnered with Jeep, creating a US-Italian rival for Jaguar Land Rover.

See our artist's impression of the new flagship Alfa Romeo

Despite rumours that the big rear-drive model could be based on the Maserati Quattroporte, Alfa’s own documents say that it will be powered by a V6 engine, making it more likely to be a sister car to the next-generation Chrysler 300C. The new model — possibly to be called the Montreal or 6C — could be built in the US alongside the 300C, a plus 
point when launching the brand back into a sceptical North American market.

Despite the welcome news about the rear-drive saloon, the long-awaited Giulia (which replaces the 159 range) has been delayed for another 12 months. It will now be launched in early 2014. With the 159 due for the axe at the end of next year, Alfa will be without a competitor in the BMW 3-series-dominated price bracket for over a year. The Giulia was 
also intended to be one of the new Alfa models destined for sale in North America and other new global markets.

In a presentation to city analysts at the recent Frankfurt show, Alfa CEO and Fiat chief technical officer Harald Wester insisted that the struggling brand would manage to sell 155,000 cars this year, before leaping to 400,000 vehicles in 2014. Although this figure was a reduction on earlier plans for half a million sales by 2014, Alfa sales would have to leap by over 200,000 units in 2012 and 2013 to get in range of the new sales target. To show the scale of the task ahead of Alfa bosses, the well regarded Giulietta hatch is expected to shift a total of just 90,000 units this year.

The only all-new mainstream Alfa due to be launched before the end of 2013 is a Kuga-sized SUV. Alfa promises that the SUV will combine “typical SUV versatility” in its roominess with “true Alfa Romeo performance” in its agility and handling. As with the upcoming Giulia and flagship, Alfa bosses say it will achieve much lower running costs, thanks to improvements in reliability, lower service costs, reduced fuel consumption and better residual values.

In addition to the SUV, Alfa will get a facelifted Mito in early 2013 and a new five-door Mito in late 2013. The only other model due in 2013 is the 4C mid-engined sports car. It is destined to be produced in tiny numbers but is a vital model because it will lead the relaunch of the Alfa brand in North America some 18 years after it withdrew.

The following year, 2014, will be a key one for Alfa. That is when it will launch the Giulia and Giulia Station Wagon, both based on the enlarged version of the Giulietta platform. Officially, Alfa bosses have not given a reason for this second delay to the Giulia, but the car’s proposed styling has been rejected at least once by Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne.

Also in 2014, the Giulietta will be facelifted and the flagship saloon will be unveiled, marking Alfa’s return to a front engine/rear drive format last seen on the 75 saloon. By then, Alfa says it will have models that cover 80 per cent of the global market segments. Only an MPV is not on its wish list.

Alfa bosses admit that there is much work to do to repair the brand, beyond the launch of new models. However, the presentation to the analysts claims that Alfa’s ratings for reliability, quality and customer satisfaction this year will match the market average. They also admit a string of historic mistakes in marketing and brand management, including “poor lifecycle management of the product”, focusing too much on pure style, a lack of consistency and a lack of global awareness.

However, the company says its new market positioning is “an Italian brand with a strong commitment to advanced technology, performance and style that will become a global competitor in near-premium segments within three years”.

Likewise, Alfa’s new brand promise is to “provide advanced cars that deliver Italian design and a dynamic and active driving experience”.

Hilton Holloway

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