Time is running out for Alfa
Luca Ciferri is the editor-in-chief of Automotive News Europe.
Alfa Romeo has been a never-ending headache for Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne.
"The Alfa issue is complicated and simple at the same time. Alfa is a great, world-renowned brand, but it is selling fewer cars than planned," he told me in October 2005.
Seven years and two relaunches later, Fiat's sports car subsidiary remains a Rubik's Cube that the workaholic CEO can't seem to solve.
This year, Alfa will sell fewer than 100,000 cars. That would be the brand's worst performance since 1969. On Oct. 30, Marchionne announced a new plan for Alfa that calls for the introduction of nine new models in the next four years.
In the past, he has been bullish with his predictions for future Alfa sales volumes. This time, Marchionne refrained from giving a sales target and declined to say much about the nine models. The new plan is a sort of declaration of intent -- with no specifics.
The only thing Marchionne was adamant about when we discussed Alfa last month was that, despite several recent overtures from Volkswagen to buy the automaker, he has no intention to sell it. "There are some things that are not for sale. If you went to [VW Chairman] Ferdinand Piech and asked to buy Audi, he would tell you it's not for sale," Marchionne said. He believes Piech wouldn't be willing to discuss a selling price for Audi so why should he provide a price for Alfa.
"I have zero interest in selling Alfa. Period," Marchionne said.
But maybe he should keep an open mind on a sale because Alfa, with its limited portfolio, is slowly dying.
Its current range includes the MiTo, a rework of the Fiat Punto subcompact that doesn't have the same DNA as a true Alfa, and the Giulietta hatchback, which is a true Alfa but does not have a wagon variant so the brand loses countless sales in Europe.
That's right -- Alfa has just two models to sell. It's no surprise that its sales are spiraling downward.
To survive and eventually to grow, Alfa needs product, product and more product. Some 30 months ago, Marchionne said that Fiat's alliance with Chrysler was the key to Alfa's relaunch. So far, Alfa has been helping Chrysler more than vice versa. As part of the deal to rescue the U.S. automaker, Fiat gave Chrysler the Giulietta's architecture, which has been widened and lengthened to underpin the Dodge Dart. It will be extended to more Chrysler Group derivatives in the years to come.
Meanwhile, Alfa enthusiasts have been told they will have to wait until 2015 for an Alfa roadster, which will be built by Mazda in Japan as a sister model to the next MX-5 Miata. But who knows if the car will be built? Mazda and Fiat haven't finalized the deal yet.
Another car that continues to be delayed is a rear-wheel-drive flagship sedan that would reconnect Alfa to its roots. This model is not expected until late 2014.
Marchionne's determination to turn Alfa around appears sincere, but it seems unlikely that a very weakened Alfa -- even with a nine-vehicle range -- will be able to compete against brands such as Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
Any more delays or second-guessing will probably lead to a sale or a collapse with these words on the tombstone: "R.I.P. Alfa Romeo. A great, world-renowned brand that died from lack of product."
You can reach Luca Ciferri at email@example.com.