GENEVA - Alfa Romeo will begin talking with its former U.S. dealers to prepare for its return to the United States in 2007, Alfa President Daniele Bandiera said.
Alfa, the sporty unit of the financially strapped Fiat Auto S.p.A., is plotting an aggressive U.S. return with four models: a coupe, a two-seat Spider roadster; and a four-door sedan and station wagon.
All the models are based on the premium platform developed with General Motors' Saab unit and will have an all-wheel-drive version.
"We will begin approaching about 40 dealers that had been faithful to Alfa Romeo," Bandiera said in an interview at the Geneva auto show. He said Alfa also will talk with U.S. Maserati dealers.
Bandiera dismissed the possibility that a GM sales channel, such as Cadillac or Saab, will distribute Alfas.
"We wish to appoint dealers enthusiastic in our brand, not just add a franchise to dealers who are not truly interested in Alfa," he said. "We don't want to replicate the ARDONA mistake."
He was referring to a 1989 distribution deal with Chrysler Corp. called Alfa Romeo Distributors of North America. The venture was aimed at boosting Alfa's U.S. sales to 25,000 annually.
Under ARDONA, Alfa's sales peaked at 3,482 in 1990 and withered to 414 in 1995, its last year on the U.S. market. At the start of that year, Alfa had 86 U.S. franchises.
On March 13, 2000, the day it signed its strategic alliance with GM, Fiat Auto said Alfa was returning to America. In the agreement, GM bought 20 percent of Fiat Auto for $2.4 billion.
At the time, Fiat said Alfa would return to the United States in early 2003 with the Spider replacement. Since then, Alfa's return has been delayed three times: to 2004, 2005 and 2007.
The four-car range of vehicles for America is code-named 939. The coupe will be almost identical to the Brera concept car, an Italdesign-Giugiaro creation that was unveiled at last year's Geneva auto show. In January, the car was named Automotive News' Concept Car of the Year.
The U.S. lineup later will get a crossover vehicle that Alfa plans to introduce in Europe by 2007 to replace the 166 sedan flagship.
Paul Spruell, president of Paul Spruell Motorcars (Lamborghini) in Atlanta, said he was the nation's second largest Alfa dealer when Alfa pulled out in 1995. He hasn't discussed a return with the factory. "I would take them back under any conditions," said Spruell, 61, who races Alfa Romeo Giulietta and 1750 spiders. "Alfa Romeo gets in your blood."