Alfa drops maintenance offer

Reliability no longer a key sales point for 159 sedan, wagon

GENOA, Italy – Alfa Romeo has stopped using reliability as a selling point for its new 159 sedan. Instead Alfa is using price discounts and other offers to spark sales.

The success of the 159 range is crucial to Alfa’s turnaround. The carmaker’s sales have fallen for the past four years.

Alfa said last June it would offer a three-year warranty plus three years of free maintenance on the car to win lower-premium customers away from the top three sellers in the segment – the Audi A4, BMW 3 series and Mercedes-Benz C class.

The German rivals offer two-year warranties. None currently offers free maintenance.

In January Alfa stopped offering the incentive, which it estimated was worth E1,400 to customers. Like its rivals, Alfa now offers a two-year warranty and no free maintenance.

“Early 159 customers didn’t appreciate the value of our offer, and because it had a clear cost for us, we decided to drop it,” said Alfa Romeo Brand Director Antonio Baravalle last month during the press launch here of the 159 station wagon, which Alfa calls the Sportwagon.

Baravalle inherited the maintenance offer from his predecessor Karl-Heinz Kalbfell. Baravalle replaced Kalbfell as Alfa boss last September. Kalbfell is still with Alfa’s parent, Fiat group, as head of Maserati.

To boost 159 sales, Alfa has slashed prices, introduced decontented versions and provided an entry-level engine in the sedan version.

One example of the strategy change is the price of an entry-level 159 sedan.

When it was launched last summer, the cheapest 159 sedan, the 160hp, 1.9-liter JTS gasoline-powered Progression version, cost E28,600. This price included the three-year warranty and maintenance plan. The new entry-level 159 has a 140hp,

1.8-liter gasoline engine and costs E23,260.

Key facts
Name: Alfa Romeo 159 Sportwagon
Code-name: 939
Launch: March in Italy; by the end of May in the rest of Europe
Platform: Premium platform that also underpins the 159 sedan, the Brera coupe, unveiled at the 2005 Geneva auto, and the new Spider, which debuted at this year’s Geneva show.
Segment: Lower premium
Main competitors: Audi A4 and BMW 3-series station wagons
Prices: E24,760 to E42,760 (E1,500 more than a similarly equipped 159 sedan)
Investment: E900 million (together with the 159 sedan)
Plant: Pomigliano d’Arco, Naples, Italy.
Production: 80,000-85,000 units in 2006; 100,000-120,000 units in 2007 (both figures include 159 sedan)
CO2 emissions: From 159g/km (1.9-liter front-wheel-drive diesel) to 275g/km (3.2-liter 4wd gasoline)
EuroNCAP: 5 stars (top score)

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