TURIN, Italy -- With Mazda, Alfa Romeo may finally have found the right partner to help it replace its front-wheel-drive Spider roadster, which ended production in 2010.
Fiat and Mazda plan to jointly develop a new roadster for Alfa and Mazda based on the Miata/MX5 platform. The move should help Fiat Group's sports-car brand lift flagging sales. Alfa has the thinnest product range of any automaker, selling only the MiTo entry-premium car and Giulietta premium compact model.
Alfa sales in Europe dropped 32 percent to 36,000 units from January to April in a market that declined 7.1 percent in total, according to data from Jato Dynamics. Sales of the MiTo fell 36 percent to 10,500 units, while the Giulietta declined 25 percent to 24,000. Alfa also sold around 2,000 of its 159 mid-sized premium sedan and wagon models, which were both discontinued in 2010.
For years, Alfa has been discussing how to replace its front-wheel-drive Spider with a rear-wheel-drive model to reconnect with the iconic Spider first launched in 1966. Actor Dustin Hoffman made the car, based on the Giulia sedan, famous in the movie The Graduate.
Because of the low volumes planned, Alfa had always been looking for a partner to share the investments for a relaunch. Mazda, it seems, could be the answer. The jointly-developed model, proposed by the two automakers will be a successor to the rear-wheel-drive MX-5/Miata roadster and will have distinct styling for each brand.
Alfa will launch its version of the roadster in global markets including Europe and the United States, starting in 2015. The car will be built at Mazda's factory in Hiroshima.
The agreement to use the MX-5 underpinnings is nothing new. In 2008, Alfa's CEO at the time, Luca De Meo, first suggested the idea, but when Fiat entered into a strategic alliance with Chrysler in 2010, the plan changed.
That same year, Alfa said it was planning to launch a new Spider in 2013, possibly co-developed with Chrysler and built in the United States or Canada. In 2011, Alfa CEO Harald Wester announced the model would be delayed by a year, without clarifying who the partner would be.
I really hope that the announcement by Fiat and Mazda is the final decision on the future of the Alfa Spider. While a 2015 launch date is not exactly tomorrow, it is better than nothing.