At the Frankfurt Motor Show
the short-term future for the Alfa Romeo brand got even more bleak as a
presentation held by senior management on the sidelines of the event revealed
urgently-needed models have been pushed back even further – with the critical
D-segment Giulia now scheduled for 2014.
In a join presentation made in
conjunction with Chrysler Group’s Jeep brand at the UBS Auto Investor
Conference, Fiat’s management tried to discover some synergies between the
offroad division and Alfa Romeo. Using the pretext of global economic jitters,
Alfa Romeo CEO Harald Wester was able to admit projects have been scaled back,
or in the case of the planned D-segment SUV to be shared with Jeep, canned.
Alfa Romeo expects to sell
155,000 cars globally this year, up from 115,000 in 2009 and 2010, and 107,000
in 2008. Presenting sweeping changes to the 2010-2014 business plan, Fiat’s
somewhat wild existing target of 500,000 Alfa Romeo sales a year by 2014 has
been trimmed, but only to an equally optimistic 400,000 units.
For the immediate future, Alfa
Romeo will have to continue to rely mainly on the C-segment Giulietta which is
selling in-line with original targets. It currently has 23,000 outstanding
orders and over 100,000 have now been registered since its launch in May 2010.
Alfa Romeo expects the C-segment hatchback to meet this year’s target of
90-100,000 sales as pan-European sales make up for the peaking of domestic
uptake. Significantly, the presentation claimed that 90 per cent of its sales
are for high trim levels while the Giulietta has achieved a three per cent share
of the European (EU27+EFTA) C-segment, the highest ever achieved by an Alfa
Romeo model. The presentation didn’t offer any sales data or forecasts for the
less successful MiTo.
One of Alfa Romeo’s problems
has always been a lack of understanding of the brand by Fiat's top management
which stems right back to its acquisition in 1986. Always unrealistic, pitching
its products against BMW, Mercedes and Audi has continually doomed Alfa to
hemorrhaging cash; in a small but hopeful hint that the penny has finally
dropped, however, the presentation suggests that it will now be positioned as
“near-premium”, as an “Italian brand with a strong commitment to advanced
technology, performance and style, that will become a global competitor in
near-premium segments within three years.” Alfa Romeo also says it plans to
expand its dealership network outside Europe by around 30 percent by tapping
into the capabilities Chrysler Group, joint ventures and external distributors.
Alfa Romeo’s biggest problem,
however, is the lack of models arriving in the showrooms in the near future.
Aside from the B-segment MiTo and a few run-out examples of the 159, the
Giulietta will be on its own until the first of the brand’s new models arrives
as scheduled in 18 months’ time – and this assumes the plan is adhered to. This
latest slide presentation updates the global 2010-2014 business plan unveiled
last April, and the simple message is ‘all change’. While many serious investors
regard Fiat’s never-ending churn of business plans as barely worth the paper
they are written on, the presentations at least offer some sort of timeline on
the earliest possible dates that proposed models could arrive in the showrooms.
With just two new models in the last five years, the proof is in the pudding,
and the eternal swathe of new models that will join up the blanks in the sporty
brand’s range always seem to remain stubbornly in the distance (in the case of
this latest business plan, it also claims that by 2014 Alfa Romeo will cover 80
per cent of global market segments).
According to the presentation,
the low-volume, high-tech 4C Concept will arrive in 2013, confirming the
resetting of this target a couple of months ago. The slide also confirms that
this will be the "first Alfa Romeo car re-entering the US market” – although
with plans for the Stateside relaunch now ongoing for a decade, it remains to be
seen if the 4C will make it across the Atlantic and into branded showrooms, or
sold in the manner of the 8C Competizione.
Also pencilled in for early
2013 is the current MiTo’s mid-life facelift, while late in the year (meaning
2014 in Fiat terminology) will be the MiTo 5-door version, believed to be a new
model, and engineered for the U.S. market. The final addition to the range in
2013 will be the C-SUV to be shared by Alfa Romeo and Jeep (for the latter it
will replace its unloved Compass and Patriot twins). However, with work having
not yet begun at Mirafiori and talk the project could in fact be shifted to the
U.S., it remains to be seen if this target can be hit. Ostensibly, the reason
for shifting production to the U.S. is due to currency fluctuations, but Fiat
has put one of its usual wild targets on Alfa Romeo's uptake of the joint C-SUV
and with Jeep likely to be able to absorb a much greater slice of overall
production it makes a great deal more sense to build it in North America.
However, the biggest concern
for Alfa Romeo is the disappearance of the D-segment Giulia sedan and its
station wagon spin-off until 2014; last year’s business plan had earmarked an
introduction in 2013. With sales of the incumbent 159 and Sportwagon having long
since collapsed, by the time the replacement is introduced Alfa Romeo will have
spent almost four years without a genuine contender in D-segment. With the MiTo
5-door unlikely to arrive before early 2014, it means that a U.S. relaunch isn’t
likely to happen before 2014 at the earliest. Finally – in a touch of dark
humour – the long-running saga of a future E-segment executive sedan (‘Alfa
169’) returns to an Alfa Romeo presentation – although in a slightly ironic
touch, the image is seen hanging off the edge of the slide, largely summing up
this vehicle’s prospects.