Alfa Romeo will be completely reinvented with a blitz of new models and a complete rethink of its business in time for its 100th anniversary in 2010 — and a new rear-wheel-drive flagship saloon car is part of the plan.The model rush will begin with the new Mini-rivalling Junior this year, followed by major reworkings of the 159, Brera and Spider. In early 2009 Alfa will launch a replacement for the 147, based on a more sophisticated version of the Fiat Bravo chassis.But crowning the reinvention in 2010 will be a rear-wheel-drive flagship model as previewed in our exclusive image, which could be based on a Jaguar chassis.
Overhauled from factory to showroom floor
The extent of the nut-and-bolt rethink of the classic Italian marque is demonstrated by the decision to suspend production at its main Pomigliano d’Arco plant for two months from January, in a last-ditch attempt to boost quality. If the plant doesn’t improve its record it could lose the contract for the next-gen Alfa 147 and suffer a gradual wind-down over the next few years.Alfa has also appointed Fiat Group marketing chief Luca De Meo as its new CEO, replacing Antonio Baravalle, who had held the post for seven years.Frank Stephenson, designer of the first BMW Mini and previously design chief at Maserati and Ferrari, has been made the new Alfa styling chief.Last but not least, Alfa is also shaking up its dealer network across Europe in a determined attempt to end its reputation for poor after-sales service.
Alfa’s US expansion plans
The Alfa Romeo badge is destined to return to the United States next year, initially on the nose of the limited-edition 8C sports car, which will be sold through Maserati dealers.The next car due in the US market could be the entry-level Junior model, according to Fiat Auto CEO Sergio Marchionne.In an interview in an industry newspaper, he promised an “out-of-the-box” approach to re-introducing Alfa to the US. “Alfa needs something special,” he said, adding that the company was looking closely at the methods used by BMW to relaunch the Mini in the US.Autocar understands that this plan could hinge around building the Punto-based Junior at a suitably equipped factory in South America, and then importing the vehicle into North America. The move could ensure that the Junior delivers a profit margin, despite entry-level status.
New Alfa 169: based on a Jaguar?
But perhaps the biggest surprise is the shock news that Alfa’s upcoming flagship could be based on a Jaguar chassis.Marchionne has admitted that Fiat Auto attempted to buy Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford early in 2007. He also revealed that Fiat Auto was “attracted to British car makers for a number of reasons, including Land Rover’s US dealer network and Jaguar’s platforms and powertrains,” which it could then have used to make “top Alfa Romeo models with front-mounted, longitudinal engines and rear-wheel drive”.He added: “We remain open to talks with the future owner of Jaguar and Land Rover about possible co-operation.” Industry analysts say that if Fiat’s Indian partner, Tata, wins the race to buy Jaguar and Land Rover, this unusual tie-up could still become reality.The first beneficiary of a deal with Jaguar would be Alfa’s new 169 flagship, which is now due to be launched in 2010, marking Alfa’s centenary.Marchionne says the company has finalised the styling for the car, which he describes as “stunning”. He also says Alfa Romeo knows how to create a “great” rear-drive platform for the large car, one that is likely to be related to the Maserati family chassis.However, Alfa bosses are in negotiations with a number of rival car makers in an attempt to source a less expensive rear-drive chassis off the shelf. Marchionne expects a decision to be made by the end of this month.Auto analysts regard Alfa as still struggling, with sales of the ageing 147 unlikely to top 60,000 this year and the new 159 topping out at around 85,000. Company bosses have already targeted annual sales of 300,000 for Alfa by 2010, just about double today’s total.