The fleet of entirely new rear-drive premium product we’ll start seeing rolling out of Alfa Romeo’s factory gates from June 2015 will proudly stand shoulder to shoulder with rivals from the likes of BMW, says Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne.
The long-mooted rejuvenation of the iconic Italian brand begins in earnest on June 24, 2015, when the company will launch the first of eight new products. This car will in all likelihood be the mid-sized BMW 3 Series rival, the Giulia sedan.
According to Marchionne, who has recently driven multiple end-stage mule versions of the first new Alfa models to be spun off the company’s modular rear- and all-wheel-drive ‘Giorgio architecture’, it will more than justify the company’s very bold sales projections and cut the Germans’ grass.
The FCA boss spoke with media, including CarAdvice, this week at the Paris motor show, at his traditional, more intimate 'state of the nation' address.
“I think we’re making great progress towards getting to the right end. I’ve been a, I was a, driver of German makes before I went to Fiat, so I think I understand, I used to drive an M5 when I was young and foolish, and I always recognised that they had phenomenal know how and I used to love the car,” Marchionne said.
“And I’ve driven others, and I won’t, there’s enough plugs here for the competition, but I can tell you honestly that, based on what I’ve seen, we’re on a par, if not better. Just give us the time.
“You’ll have a chance to drive the hell out of it and find out whether it really will withstand a head to head competition with the German competition. Just, just wait, we’re less than a year away.”
As we know, Marchionne ordered some time ago that Alfa Romeo be stripped back to the bone and rebuilt. It has the technology. German rivals had built a “phenomenal lead”, the company said in May this year, and only a laser-like focus would turn it around.
Technically speaking, from next year all Alfas will be spun-off the “best-in-class” Giorgio common architecture that will by the end of 2018 host eight distinct cars from the compact, mid-sized, large, sporty and SUV segments, all made in Italy.
Five new engines – three petrol and two diesel – are also included in the plans, with a high-performance V6 said to be capable of more than 370kW on the cards.
From a sales perspective, the plan is to see five-fold sales growth by 2018 to 400,000 units annually, spearheaded by the recent return to the US, leveraged through parent company Fiat’s ownership of Chrysler. BMW is in the Italian’s cross-hairs in a very big way.
“We are working, as we've announced back in May, on the relaunch of Alfa,” Marchionne said. “I think that June 24th 2015 (Alfa’s 105th anniversary) is a big day for us because that's when we will be unveiling the first incarnation of this architecture with the powertrains and it will be the first evidence of the work that's gone here for the last two and a half years.”
Asked if the 400,000 units target was a trifle ambitious considering Alfa had very little presence in the US, almost zero in China and was “tarnished” in Europe due to quality issues and years of making fettled Fiats, Marchionne — renowned as the most engaging, frank and open CEO in the business — came out hard.
“I think there’s a better depth of understanding of Alfa in the US than you can surmise, certainly based on the length of time that Alfa’s been away from the US, which is a long time,” he said.
“I won’t take issue with the fact that Alfa has got, quote unquote, a tarnished reputation, and it also has had a limited number of products in the market place, and it certainly is a reason… I’ve openly admitted that Alfa was a remake story, that Alfa had to be rebuilt and that we had to go back to some fundamental, key elements of the DNA of that brand, and really start from their repositioning.”
Marchionne drew parallels with his goals for Alfa to the turn-around success of Jeep, which has grown from 200,000 in 2009 to 732,000 last year and is on track to break 1 million this year. It targets 1.9 million by 2018, and cars such as the Renegade and Grand Wagoneer are a red hot chance to get it there.
“So miracles of the ones that I made reference to are possible. The question is, is it likely?” he asked. “Which is certainly a different question, and so the likelihood of the positioning of Alfa in my view is contingent on two things; the ability to distribute and to distribute effectively, but more importantly it hinges on product and whether it can effectively pitch itself against a German benchmark performance.
“In the absence of Chrysler, I think that the 400,000 number that I gave you would have been an absolute nonsensical number. I could have never, never made, I would have never had access to distribution in NAFTA (North America), which the association with Chrysler has given us.
“… The more fundamental question, which I think is the one that we have been working at very, very diligently over the last two and a half years is the product itself, product and powertrain. And for that I can only threaten you with a reveal of a decent product on June 24, 2015.
“I cannot tell you anything else other than the fact that I know what we’ve done. And so I just ask you to bear with me while I continue to toil away to make sure that this damn thing runs.”