A true replacement for the classic Alfa Romeo Spider is among a run of all-new models being prepared by the firm to secure its future and prevent it from being wound up in the year of its 100th anniversary.
Fiat Auto boss Sergio Marchionne placed Alfa on probation at the start of this year. Model plans have been put on ice, ahead of a review of the brand’s future in April.
Unless Alfa Romeo bosses can convince Marchionne that they have a convincing forward product plan, the new Golf-sized Giulietta - which will be launched at the Geneva show in March - could be the last new Alfa model.
Alfa is seen as the most vulnerable brand in the new Fiat/Chrysler group because it has suffered consistent heavy losses for years and sold just 110,000 cars last year, almost half of what it sold in 2000.
Despite this, the company is not only pressing ahead with the Giulietta launch but is also planning a blitz of concept cars this year to demonstrate the brand’s potential.
As well as an all-new Spider, Alfa is said to be preparing conceptual replacements for the 159 saloon and Brera coupe. It is rumoured that Pininfarina will be responsible for the styling of the Spider, Bertone for the coupe and Giugiaro for the saloon.
It is thought that under Alfa’s original plans, the replacements for the Spider, Brera and 159 were to be based on Fiat’s new C-Evo platform, which also underpins the Giulietta. The Spider and coupe would share the standard-length platform with the Giulietta, while the 159 replacement would be based on a long-wheelbase version of the C-Evo.
All would get front-wheel drive (as well as the option of all-wheel drive) and a raft of turbocharged, four-cylinder Multiair engines, including the new 197bhp 1750 TBi unit that has just made its debut in the 159.
However, Alfa’s sudden move into partnership with Maserati and Abarth has thrown these plans into question.
Some sources say new Alfa boss Harald Wester is now investigating whether Fiat and Chrysler can develop a new rear-drive platform using base technology from Chrysler.
This would support a replacement for the Alfa 159 and 166, plus the next Chrysler 300C, Lancia Thesis and Dodge Charger and Challenger.
There’s also a possibility that any big Alfas could be built in the US at Chrysler factories and shipped back to Europe, allowing them to be particularly competitive on price.
The thinking is that a switch to rear-wheel drive would not only return Alfa to its sporting roots but also make a new 159 much more competitive in a market segment dominated by German marques. Fiat bosses are said to be wary of Alfa launching another ‘me too’ front-drive saloon after the relatively slow sales of the 159.
At the Detroit show last month, Marchionne admitted that Alfa has been “underperforming for a long time”, suggesting that Alfa was the thorniest problem in the whole Fiat/Chrysler portfolio.
“This year is make or break for Alfa,” he said. “We need to be realistic with what Alfa can and should do. It plays in a very difficult market because it has an ambition to go after higher-end German cars.
“When you look at the execution [of Alfa’s product plans], it’s been relatively poor,” Marchionne added. He also made it clear that he thought Alfa had suffered from inconsistent management and too many fresh starts.
“We need to work a lot harder on Alfa to make an intelligent decision that effectively preserves the highest possible value to Fiat,” Marchionne said.