MARK RECHTIN

Hands off Alfa, Sergio tells Piech

SAN FRANCISCO -- As a lapsed Alfa Romeo owner -- a 1974 Spider to be specific -- I was gratified to hear Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne tell VW's Ferdinand Piech to keep his mitts off Alfa Romeo.

American alfisti know it as the icon of glorious drivers' cars, filled with Italian cool. But we also know it as the brand of broken promises. How many times have we been promised a return of the serpent-and-cross to these shores, only to see our hopes dashed?

Most recently, we have been told that Fiat dealers in America will get Alfas to sell starting in 2012. Since then, however, Alfa's troubles became more clear, and Piech said he would be willing to take control of the brand -- his version of a humanitarian gesture.

"As long as I am CEO of Fiat, Mr. Piech will never have Alfa," Marchionne sternly warned his German counterpart.

This shows he is taking the resurrection of the brand seriously. And given Sergio's subsequent comments about how Daimler ruined its alliance with Chrysler, and what VW has done to the Spanish Seat brand, it is clear Marchionne worries what German supervision could do to Alfa.

Alfa's current product line is quite strong. I drove the cute little MiTo 1.4 from Munich to Lake Como and was seriously impressed. The new Giulietta is a capable compact with beautiful lines. And if they build the gorgeous 2uettottanta concept penned by Pininfarina, it will set the styling bar for luxury convertibles.

So long as Sergio takes Alfa's recovery as seriously as he looks at Chrysler's bottom line, then American alfisti, can keep our hopes high.

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