22.01.2010 FIAT CONSIDERS ALFA ROMEO-MASERATI-ABARTH TIE UP

HARALD J WESTER

Reports suggest that Alfa Romeo's currently uncertain future could see it tied up with Maserati and Abarth in a new sports-focused division under the leadership of the Fiat Group's Chief Technical Officer, Harald J Wester who is already responsible for steering the futures of the latter two brands.

Reports suggest that Alfa Romeo's currently uncertain future could see it tied up with Maserati and Abarth in a new sports-focused division under the leadership of the Fiat Group's Chief Technical Officer, Harald J Wester who is already responsible for steering the futures of the latter two brands. The news comes from Automotive News Europe which quotes sources 'familiar with the matter'.

According to the report current Alfa Romeo CEO Sergio Cravero, who has been in charge for the last year after being promoted from his position as the brand's marketing chief, will be assigned fresh duties within the Fiat Group. Last year Alfa Romeo's European sales increased 8.1 percent to 110,545 units although this year-on-year rise is in part down to a two-and-a-half month shutdown of its key Pomigliano d'Arco factory at the beginning of 2008 which slightly distorts the data. Replacing Cravero continues the constant revolving door of Alfa Romeo brand CEOs.

Before Christmas Fiat Group CEO Sergio Marchionne intimated that his patience with Alfa Romeo had run out. The brasnd reportedly loses between 200 and 400 million euros a year, although these are estimates as Fiat doesn't split up financial reports for the FGA brands. Marchionne suggested Alfa Romeo's future model development could be canned once the Giulietta is introduced in the spring, implying a slow death for the brand as sales gradually wound down, or that future large end of the range models could be based on Chrysler Group architecture, to eventually replace the current-generation of 159 and provide a long-mooted replacement for the discontinued 166.

Wester's key day job at Fiat is as Chief Technical Officer, but he acquired overall responsibility for Fiat's niche Abarth sports brand when Luca De Meo jumped ship to take up a marketing position at VW Group a year ago, and he also assumed the reigns at Maserati when Roberto Ronchi departed in the summer of 2008, the Trident is another division that has suffered from continual changes in CEO. Now the talk is that these two could be combined with Alfa Romeo to create a new division with - Fiat hopes - overlapping synergies.

It will be just the latest juggling for the Alfa Romeo division within the Fiat Group since the Italian carmaker bought the brand in 1986 to prevent Ford from completing a takeover. Previously Alfa Romeo was tied together with Lancia, but this was unpicked to allow it to standalone. In the spring of 2005 the then Alfa Romeo CEO Karl-Heinz Kalbfell took over at Maserati as well but this arrangement latest barely six months before he was dumped from his Alfa Romeo duties although for a short while he technically assumed responsibility for the 'sporting pole' of both divisions before eventually leaving the Group.

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