The launch of the Alfa Romeo Stelvio SUV at the Los Angeles motor show this month will kick-start a revival plan for the Italian marque that is mapped out to include up to nine new car launches over the next five years - potentially ushering in a rival for the BMW 5 Series, a flagship large SUV and a new sports car.
Buoyed by the positive early reception for the 3 Series-rivalling Giulia and with the new Giulia-based Stelvio SUV set to be in dealerships in summer 2017, new boss Reid Bigland is crystallising plans to turn around faltering sales figures and re-energise the brand with a dramatic series of new model launches - hinged around the SUV boom - to create substantial sales growth by 2020.
Bigland, a former head of North America for Alfa Romeo and president of the Ram and Dodge brands, was brought in to head up Alfa and Maserati in May this year, with the express goal from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) group boss Sergio Marchionne of kickstarting Alfa’s latest faltering sales revival. Despite a €5 billion (£4.4bn) investment plan being unveiled in 2014, it was set back by two years after technical problems delayed the launch of the Giulia and investment for growth in key markets such as China was not forthcoming.
“Our goal is absolutely to go toe to toe with the Germans, but that’s not a two-year plan," said Bigland. "We’re just not going to get there that quickly. They’re in every segment and spinning derivatives off those segments.
“Even with the new [Stelvio] SUV, we will only have 50% coverage of the market. We need to pick our strategy and get it right. We have one chance to make the best possible car with every launch.”
The turnaround is much needed but has Marchionne’s backing because it is also potentially highly lucrative. Alfa’s annual sales in the modern era peaked at just over 200,000 cars in 2001 but have since slid dramatically, as the model line-up has contracted and aged, to a current level of barely 60,000.
However, the launch of the Giulia has created a potentially lucrative foothold in the premium brand heartland and the arrival of the Stelvio will drive profits further, because SUVs command a higher price than traditional saloons.
Family of new SUVs
Speaking to Autocar, Bigland refused to be drawn on whether the Stelvio name would make production - the name Kamal has also been strongly rumoured - but he outlined why it will stand out from its rivals.
“The reason people will buy our mid-sized SUV is because they will get blown away by the driving dynamics,” he said.
“Every car Alfa makes must stand apart for that reason. This car will not disappoint.”
It is expected to be pitched as a dynamic competitor to the Jaguar F-Pace and Porsche Macan, priced from around £40,000 and powered by a range of familiar four and six-cylinder diesel and petrol engines. To emphasise the SUV’s sporty credentials, a twin-turbo 2.9-litre V6-powered Quadrofoglio version is being prepared.
Bigland also hinted that a larger SUV is likely to make production as part of Alfa’s five-year plan. “The whole world is gravitating to SUVs,” he said. “A few years ago, an Alfa SUV would have been sacrilegious, but now it makes perfect sense. Our job is to keep an eye on consumer preferences and give people what they want.”