The return of Alfa Romeo to the US market is critical to its future success, says the Italian brand’s parent company FiatChrysler.
Alfa will belatedly relaunch in North America in the second half of 2013 with its new 4C sports car.
The world’s second biggest market will be crucial to the brand’s aims to triple 2012’s 92,000 sales to 300,000 by 2016.
“I think the battleground for us is US based,” FiatChrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne told media at this week’s 2013 Geneva motor show. “We need to take on the German imports in that market as a European brand of equal if not superior value.
“The good thing is that the planned renaissances [of recent years] were never really executed so we never embarrassed ourselves and came home with the tail between our legs.
“There are two things that have fundamentally changed [for this relaunch]. One is that we now have a very solid alliance with Chrysler. Chrysler has a distribution network which we’ve never had before.
“We have successfully executed with the Fiat brand and we have more than 200 dealerships in the US now.
“That was one huge issue. But more importantly the sharing of architectures has made it economically viable for Alfa. It could never have done it economically in the absence of Chrysler, just impossible.
“The baseline investment to launch these [Alfa] vehicles would have been far in excess of the economic return.”
Marchionne admits quality concerns have blighted Alfa’s history in the US but says the brand has been made “uniquely revivable” because its cars have an emotional connection through models that have appeared in US films, such as the Duetto that was made famous in The Graduate.
Two of the first Alfas to go on sale in the US are not shared with Chrysler.
The 4C sits on its own distinctive carbonfibre-based architecture, while the new-generation Spider (rendered above in an artist's illustration) due in 2015 will be based on the Mazda MX-5 and built in the Japanese brand’s homeland.
Marchionne says the 4C is the perfect car to relaunch Alfa in North America.
“My expectation with 4C in the second half of the year, we are going to start the process of reintroduction of the brand with three fundamental things that I think are the core of Alfa.
“First on design, second is the lightweighting of vehicles, and the third thing, which I think is essential for Alfa, is incredibly unique powertrain solution to anybody who buys an Alfa.
“Do I think we have met the target with the 4C, the answer is absolutely yes. If I think it’s important to get to the next car and get there quickly, the answer is yes. And do I think we need we need to get to the US first before we come back to Europe, the answer is yes.”
Marchionne says success for Alfa in Europe is complicated by the market’s current situation.
“In terms of Europe, I don’t know [about being successful with Alfa]. For anyone to claim success in Europe market with the pricing conditions I”ve seen, I question their sanity. This is not a great market to be in regardless of what part of the spectrum you’re in.
“It’s not just the mass-market cars that have been downgraded but also the premium end. So we need to be very careful.
“I think Europe is in a transition phase and it needs to settle. And it’s not settled.”
The Alfa Romeo 4C goes on sale in Australia in the first quarter of 2014, with a target price below $80,000.
Alfa's next model due is the replacement for the 159, the Giulia that has been delayed.