08.12.2009 MARCHIONNE RATCHETS UP THE PRESSURE ON ALFA ROMEO AND LANCIA

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In a media interview Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne has turned the screw further on the future directions of Fiat Group Automobiles' two niche brands, Lancia and Alfa Romeo, emphasising that their presently envisioned futures are to be no longer assured.

In a media interview Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne has turned the screw further on the future directions of Fiat Group Automobiles' two niche brands, Lancia and Alfa Romeo, emphasising that their presently envisioned futures are to be no longer assured.

It's been a chaotic couple of weeks for the Lancia and Alfa Romeo brands, last week the preview of the new Alfa Romeo Giulietta hatchback was overshadowed by a last-minute name change from the proposed Milano, which only demonstarted the severing of links with the brand's birth city ahead of its centenary, and then just hours before Marchionne questioned Alfa Romeo's future model roll out, stating that once the Giulietta is launched early next year there could be a product freeze, partly as potential architecture collaborations with the Chrysler Group are weighed up.

Speaking to Automotive News Europe in an interview that was published yesterday, Marchionne, who also holds the dual role of Chrysler CEO, pushes further at comments that the Chrysler nameplate could be promoted in many key European markets at the expense of the Lancia brand. While the announced tie-up between Lancia and Chrysler will continue to deepen he draws back though from earlier talk of greater synergies between Dodge and Alfa Romeo.

Asked if "Olivier Francois' leadership of Chrysler and Lancia a temporary step to align future brand positioning, or will it lead to a single product range sold under different brands in different regions?" Marchionne told ANE that: "Since you are listing all the options, there is a third one: one product portfolio sold under one brand. The Francois appointment is not temporary; it's permanent. I think it will take some time, but the Lancia and the Chrysler brands will act as one brand going forward." He also believes that Chrysler has greater international value that Lancia and this includes Europe. "Obviously the Chrysler brand has international recognition. It carries the name of the corporate group in the United States. It has a much larger visibility. Nevertheless, Lancia certainly in some of the European countries has long, well-established historical roots. We need to find a way to make Chrysler and Lancia co-exist and not fight. Brand rationalisation continues to be the key driver here. It takes a huge amount of money to maintain a brand."

Asked if he envisioned a similar shared future between Dodge and Alfa Romeo as has been hinted at in comments in recent months, Marchionne told ANE: "[Dodge brand CEO] Ralph Gilles did an incredible job in my view in presenting the Dodge brand on Nov. 4th. I think it was a very clear attempt at assigning Dodge a DNA; the separation of the Ram brand from Dodge helped a lot in providing that clarity. But this does not mean that Dodge can become a European or a universal brand. There are parts of its product portfolio that undoubtedly always remain Dodge. The Challengers and the Chargers are by definition American vehicles, and you cannot turn them into anything else. We would be doing a huge disservice to Dodge if we tried to de-Americanise those nameplates. Other products within the Dodge brand have a utilisation that goes beyond the Dodge brand outside the United States, models that are capable of being rebadged and more efficiently distributed internationally by Fiat. Our immediate task now is to see what else sits within Dodge that can be used internationally by the Fiat brand.

Turning to Alfa Romeo, Marchionne says that "the Alfa brand is a different story. The heritage of the Alfa and Dodge brands is completely different, the DNA is completely different. I can always find common elements in both, reducing everything to 'it's got four wheels and four doors.' And I can make myself happy and say, 'Look, these brands can drive together.' We would lose a lot of the appeal of Alfa Romeo if we try to Americanise it through a merger with Dodge. That's not to be of disservice to the Dodge brand."
 

2009 Interfuture Media/Italiaspeed