Yesterday’s marathon Fiat Chrysler Automobile (FCA) presentation was so massive and sweeping in all that it encompassed that City analysts are still picking through the details.
In Alfa’s case, it’s a massive £4 billion investment in eight new models, which will arrive between now and 2018.
The only surprise in the product plan is that Alfa has decided to stay in the compact premium segment. With one of ‘New Alfa’s’ objectives being to produce ‘best-in-class’ rear and all-wheel drive architecture, it seems that there’s more than a good chance of a compact, rear-drive Alfa Romeo arriving in showrooms, in two body styles, between 2016 and 2018.
The first new Alfa road car – the rear-drive rival for the BMW 3-series – will arrive in late 2015, with a flagship sporting Cloverleaf version appearing from the outset. That saloon will be followed by an estate. There’ll also be two ‘UVs’ – Alfa has adopted the ‘Utility Vehicle’ tag – presumably both based on Alfa’s new homegrown platform.
Then there will be Alfa’s ‘full size’ offering and another Alfa flagship sportscar, which is likely to be positioned above the Alfa Romeo 4C.
The planned Alfa Spider, based on the next-generation Mazda MX-5 has, as rumoured, been dropped from the plan. This car will effectively morph into a new Fiat 124 Spider, a car that was very popular in the United States.
Clearly this is a sound plan on paper, presuming that the £4bn investment is already ring-fenced. And the promise that the brand has dropped front-wheel drive shows that this reinvention of Alfa is serious about its premium positioning.
However, the really surprising thing about yesterday’s presentation by brand boss Harald Wester was Alfa’s unashamed exposure of the company’s past mistakes.
One slide shown on the giant screen mocked the idea of turning the Fiat Croma into the Alfa 164 (was that so bad?), while another described the Nissan Cherry-based Alfa Arna as the ‘original sin’.
The presentation opened on a much more positive note, quoting Enzo Ferrari’s famous remark about Alfa (“...I still have for Alfa, the tenderness of a first love. The pure affection of a child for his mother”).
There was also an extensive run-through of Alfa’s sporting successes, starting way back in 1925 and winning a world championship at Monza through to Alfa’s more recent remarkable record in touring car competition.
The presentation then switched to the hard facts, under the snappy heading of 'Much glory on the race track which never translated into great financial success'. According to the brief summary of Alfa’s lifetime production, the brand has never shifted more than 180,000 units in a year.
Having been so brutal about its past, Alfa’s plan then revealed what it thinks will make the big difference to the new models: Alfa’s new ‘skunkworks’. According to the presentation, setting up Alfa’s development team in industrial units far away from Fiat’s Italian operations (it’s thought to be near Modena) would achieve a number of things, in particular helping Alfa ‘resist the conformist pressure that a mass car producer would exert’.
Alfa showed a series of black and white shots of this skunkworks, assuring the audience that it was successfully creating an atmosphere of engineering freedom that will result in a new generation of authentic pure-bred Alfas.
Apparently, two senior Ferrari bosses are overseeing day-to-day operations and the 200 hand-picked engineers on site today will expand to 600 by late 2016. This team is working to five key objectives: 'perfect 50-50 weight distribution, advanced, innovative engines, a set of unique technical solutions, class exclusive power-to-weight ratios and groundbreaking and distinctly Italian design'.
After twice making big predictions for Alfa growth for this decade and twice having to cancel the projections, FCA boss Sergio Marchionne expects relative modest growth – from 2013’s 74,000 units to around 400,000 global sales in 2018 – for the new-look Alfa.
You can't fault this big-money re-boot. Alfa will lose all its Fiat affiliations and now stand or fall on its technical merits.
I really hope it works, because a future premium world dominated by the German big three is not very appetising.