De Meo’s fix for Alfa: Go faster

Italian brand’s new boss plans to reshape flagging carmaker’s product range

The Mi.To goes on sale this year. Luca De Meo hopes the new model will spark Alfa’s recovery.
GENEVA -- After three months on the job, Alfa Romeo CEO Luca De Meo is clear on how to reposition the Fiat group’s sporty brand: Go back to its heritage.

“Alfa means great cars with very essential design -- smaller than competitors but more powerful. Cars that you drive like hell,” De Meo told Automotive News Europe earlier this month at the auto show here.

None of today’s Alfas meet that criterion, De Meo said. He knows it will take two or three years to reshape the Alfa product range.

Alfa’s latest car, the Mi.To, was conceived by past management. The Mi.To, which will be the brand’s new entry-premium car, will go on sale starting in July.

“If we manage to sell more than 70,000 to 75,000 units a year of the Mi.To, as originally planned, this will be the first spark in Alfa’s recovery,” De Meo said.

De Meo must reverse Alfa’s rapidly falling sales. In the first two months, sales fell 46.1 percent from year-earlier levels to 14,267 units, according to ACEA, the European automobile manufacturers’ association.

Alfa’s sales in Italy alone fell 57.7 percent, to 6,404 units in the first two months of the year.

The sales slump was due in large part to a two-month production stoppage for a €75 million refurbishment of Alfa’s main plant in Pomigliano d’Arco, Italy. Alfa makes the 149, the 159 and the GT models there.

Pomigliano, which has had quality problems, resumed production March 4 after the assembly line was improved and the workers retrained. Fiat estimates the stoppage will end up costing 25,000 units in lost production and €40 million in lost revenue.

De Meo expects Alfa sales will begin to pick up again next month. “We are trying our best to recover most of this lost volume in the coming months,” he said. “We plan to close the year with about 144,000 sales, the same level as 2007.”

De Meo, 40, also serves as Fiat group chief marketing officer and as CEO of the Abarth sporty sub brand.

You can reach Luca Ciferri at lciferri@crain.com

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