Having committed to making Fiat Chrysler's Australian operations "world class", the company's CEO, Patrick Dougherty, says Australia is a very important market for Alfa Romeo’s future growth.
“The one brand for sure that we are going to spend an appropriate amount of time on is Alfa Romeo,” Dougherty told Australian motoring media in Melbourne.
“It’s a brand that’s moving upscale. The product that will be coming to market, which we’ve not seen, is going to be pretty special, good Italian heritage, a lot of past behind the brand, good performance, and this is a very important market for it.”
The recent success of Alfa Romeo in Australia was started after Fiat Chrysler Australia took over from importer Ateco Automotive in 2012 and significantly cut the price of Alfa’s now ageing line-up, helping create a resurgence for the brand. But that may all change as the future of Alfa Romeo is to compete in a more premium category.
“We don’t see us seeing selling Alfas in the same range that we are selling today - we are going upscale. Really, it’s such a passionate brand, to say we are going to compare ourselves to somebody else right now would be immature.”
Asked if Alfa Romeo will address its quality perception issues in market, Dougherty said its future cars would be better than what the brand is currenlty remembered for.
“Everybody still loves the brand but everybody understood way back when it had some issues, to be fair. Today’s Alfas are different Alfas [to what] they will be tomorrow.”
As part of Fiat Chrysler’s plans for Alfa Romeo, there’s a significant five billion euro ($7.5 billion) investment from 2014-2018 that is intended to see the brand increase its global sales from 80,000 this year to 400,000. To do this, it will launch a range of new products, including two SUVs, which Dougherty believes will have substantial opportunity here.
“When I look at Land Rover Range Rover, I mean, boy, they sell a lot of product here compared to other markets they are in, so and I don’t want to go through the different brands but when I look at the numbers, they tell me there’s a good opportunity for us.”
The higher than average rate of luxury car uptake in Australia is what drives that opportunity.
“It’s a growing market. You have probably a stronger premium car market on a per capita basis than a lot of the other markets around the world.”
With the new range of Alfa Romeos expected to be rear-and all-wheel-drive only, the shift in the brand’s focus will be significant. Global Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne told media, including CarAdvice, in October that the reinvented Alfa Romeo had the likes of BMW and other premium car makers in its crosshairs.
“When we are talking about [the new] Alfa Romeo, it’s such a different car line, different experience. There’s going to be some niche products that are going to do well on smaller volumes, but then there will be some products that we will really hit the home run with.”
The first of the new products is the Alfa Romeo 4C, which has been delayed in its local launch. The first 50 are expected to arrive shortly, with Dougherty insisting that Alfa Romeo would meet its market demand in the first year of 4C sales.