03.03.2005 Fiat's top management, including Luca di Montezemolo, Sergio Marchionne and Karl-Heinz Kalbfell, have been in Geneva over the last two days, offering strong hints at the carmaker's future

Fiat's top management, including Luca di Montezemolo, Sergio Marchionne and Karl-Heinz Kalbfell, have been in Geneva over the last two days, offering a strong hint at the carmaker's future direction.

A new era in Alfa Romeo's long and glorious history got underway on Tuesday when CEO Karl-Heinz Kalbfell introduced the new Alfa 159 and Brera to a packed audience in Geneva.

The build up to the launch of these two new models, has been unprecedented. Spy shots, and even the most minute of details to leak out, have been pored over and analysed in depth by enthusiasts of the sporty brand.

Thus the day of the official unveiling, timed to coincide with the occasion of the highly prestigious 75th Geneva Salon, finally arrived on Tuesday. All morning the three cars (two Alfa 159s, and a Brera) sat tantalisingly under their bright-red covers, which offered some hints of their size and shape.


By the time Karl-Heinz Kalbfell stepped up to the podium at 1pm to make his speech, the stand was jam packed with onlookers, eager to catch sight of the cars. It was truly unprecedented for an Alfa Romeo new model launch, wave after wave of the world's media jostling forward to get a better view of proceedings.

In his upbeat speech Kalbfell talked of the future, of how he understood the brand, what it stood for, and how it was a gem waiting to be unlocked.

This was the first time that the new CEO had spoke in public of how he sees the future for Alfa Romeo, and enthusiasts of the marque had been apprehensively waiting for his words to be reassured that he was the right man for the job. And they were reassured. In a polished and well thought out speech, Kalbfell spoke of his plans, as well as mentioning, for the first time officially, that a return to the USA was on the cards.

LUCA DI MONTEZEMOLO - "five brands, with different prices, clients and in some cases markets"

Luca di Montezemolo, the Fiat Group Chairman, stated in Geneva on Tuesday that the split with GM "allows us to unpack our brands and give each one a clear mission." Fiat now has "five brands, with different prices, clients and in some cases markets."

He went on to outline his plans: Ferrari "will always be at the top and will never build four door cars or saloons." Next up, Maserati who will target Porsche in the two-seat sportscar sector, and at the same time go up against BMW and Mercedes-Benz in the top luxury range four-door saloon market. Meanwhile, Alfa Romeo's new separation from Fiat will allow it to concentrate on the lower end of the BMW product range, namely in taking on the BMW 1- and 3-series models.

Montezemolo announced that capacity would now be increased at Maserati's Modena plant to allow for the assembly of Alfa Romeo models, although these are expected to be strictly low-volume cars. Alfa would concentrate its mass-production at Pomigliano near Naples, while research and development would remain concentrated at Arese.


Sergio Marchionne, who is now CEO of the Fiat Group as well as CEO of Fiat's Auto Division, was also at the Geneva Motor Show, on Tuesday and Wednesday. Responding to journalist's questions regarding the search for new strategic partners, he would only say that "now all solutions are possible and now having resolved the problems with GM, our future is ours."

"A year after the next, but now let's try to finish this year in peace", was his comments of questions regarding an IPO for Ferrari, while he also reiterated that Alfa Romeo would not be 'parceled off'.

The Fiat Vice-President of Marketing Lapo Elkann, discusses the new Fiat Croma in Geneva, on Fiat's stand, which very strongly bears the realisation of his new stylistic direction

Fiat's Vice-President of Marketing Lapo Elkann discusses the new Croma model in Geneva on Fiat's stand which very strongly bears the realisation of his new stylistic direction

Alfa Romeo CEO Karl Heinz Kalbfell introduces the Alfa Romeo 159

1st March 2005: a bright new future for Alfa Romeo gets underway as CEO Karl-Heinz Kalbfell presents the new Alfa 159 and Brera to a packed audience at the 75th Geneva Salon

According to the Financial Times, Marchionne intends to complete within the next 60 days a new feasibilty study, set-up a fortnight ago when he took over as Auto Division CEO, into cutting costs much further. It will call for the immediate dispensing with of all "non-value-added functions." Marchionne added that "the speed of change of previous management was insufficient to meet our objectives."


"We're examining the possibilities in creating an alliance to strengthen the financing possibilities of our truck activity," Marchionne said in Geneva. "We're now speaking to lots of people, but there's no firm outcome yet. However in then next six months, we'll see something."

Selling Iveco Finance now could raise around 2 billion euros, and would follow in the path of Fidis, the Fiat Auto finance arm, which Fiat recently sold off a majority stake in. However insiders believe that rather than a outright sale, a new joint venture is more likely to materialise.

The strongest name to be linked with this new LCV venture is DaimlerChrysler. It is believed that the US-German carmaker has also recently been in talks with Fiat regarding new small car ventures. Fiat are planning to build a new small car, codename MICRO, to arrive in 2007-8. Originally this new car was penciled in to use the GM Trixx concept car's platform and technology, but since the dissolution of the GM-Fiat alliance, it is rumoured that Fiat have been talking to DaimlerChrysler, who are in turn are very anxious to reduce ongoing costs at their loss-making Smart brand.


The planned Maserati-Audi technology, distribution and financial joint venture has finally been quietly killed off. Bernd Pischetsrieder, the CEO of VW, last year delayed plans to introduce a new model, codenamed C1, which would have used Maserati Quattroporte platform technology.

The Fiat Group also announced on Tuesday the sale of nine further property assets, which will raise 204 million euros. They will be sold off by Fiat Partecipazioni to Beni Stabili Spa, with the deal expected to be concluded in May.

The Maserati-Alfa Romeo tie-up has dredged more possibilities to the surface, and this has been undoubtedly been one of the 'hot' topics at the Geneva Palexpo this week. Rumour suggests that Maserati could now kill off development of their next generation Coupe and Spyder in favour of now basing these two new models on the 'Premium' floorpan of the new Alfa Romeo Brera, launched here on Tuesday, and forthcoming Spider, due in the late autumn. Under this plan Maserati would use GM's V8 engine for power to create clear 'seperation' from Alfa, while the new Coupe and Spyder, which are now in the later stages of development, would form the basis of Ferrari's new Dino project.

It is also believed that GM are busily co-operating with Alfa Romeo in order to get the 'Premium' floorpan finalised for US homologation, ready for the Alfa 159 and Brera's North American arrival late next year.


While Fiat have remained quiet on the new SUV line to be built in partnership with Suzuki, Hirotaka Ono, a director of Suzuki told a press conference in Geneva that, "Development of the car is on, in partnership with Fiat. We expect the car, which would be a crossover between a small car and a SUV to be introduced by next year."

The car "which will have an engine between 1.8 and 2.0-litres" will be built in conjunction with Maruti, who have an almost 50 percent share in the Indian market.

by Edd Ellison in Geneva

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