There‘ve been more grand plans than new models in Alfa Romeo’s recent history. The trio of Mito, Giulietta and 4C are now outnumbered by the latest Alfa rescue plans of Fiat CEO’s Sergio Marchionne, the fourth of them announced this week to a group of financial analysts. Marchionne plans to reveal more details next spring and claims to be ‘determined’ to rework Alfa’s prospects and hardware, according to industry website Automotive News.
Marchionne’s plans, the first of them envisaging a now fantastical 500,000 sales by 2014, have repeatedly been thwarted by a mix of delayed product launches and the distractions and funding requirements of the much larger Fiat and Chrysler operations. Alfa’s shrinkage is a stark contrast to Marchionne’s admirable success in reviving Chrysler, and his incomplete – and cash-hungry - mission to create a competitive auto giant by completely binding it with Fiat.
Apart from funding Alfa’s revival while paying for the remaining 41.5 per cent share in Chrysler, the Fiat boss’s challenge is to create a series of genuinely premium platform architectures that can also be shared with the non-premium Chrysler and Dodge marques, because Alfa alone won’t generate the volumes to justify the investment. We have been here many times before, with plenty of Alfas and Lancias spawned from low-cost Fiat architectures that have fallen well short. That lesson was finally learnt with the current Giulietta, a car designed first as a premium model but with the scope to downgrade it to a cheaper volume model – in this case the Dodge Dart. Previously it was the low-cost Fiat architecture that was prioritised, to be followed by unconvincing re-engineerings to produce Alfas and Lancias. Though ageing, the properly premium Giulietta is the most competitive volume model Alfa has offered in decades, even if it is now outpointed.
Another lesson appears to have been learnt too, which is that Alfa must offer the mainstream rear-drive cars that its BMW nemesis does. A pity this realisation didn’t arrive 20 years earlier, but at least the paper fundamentals of the new platforms look more promising. And so does a planned line-up reckoned to be peppered with crossovers, coupés and roadsters. Amazing – or perhaps not – to consider that Alfa has yet to produce a crossover from the Kamal concept shown 10 years ago. There could now be as many as three crossovers in the range, along with two coupés to supplement the 4C, and another roadster besides the Mazda MX-5-based Spider and the 4C convertible that’s on the way. And the endlessly delayed Giulia saloon, and a 166 (remember that?) replacement, too.