TURIN, Italy -- Alfa Romeo plans to build an entry-level premium car to compete with the Mini Cooper S.
The sporty three-door hatchback, called the Junior, is to be based on the Fiat Grande Punto platform. But it will have a different body.
Alfa won corporate approval for the design from parent Fiat Auto S.p.A. this month.
The Junior, due by 2008, is expected to become Alfa's new entry model. It will fit below the 147, which will be replaced in early 2009 by the larger 149.
Alfa plans a return to the U.S. market in late 2008, beginning with expensive sports cars sold through the 47 U.S. dealers that sell its sister brand, Maserati. But the new Mini-fighter is not slated for the United States because the Grande Punto platform was not engineered for U.S. regulations.
Alfa expects the Junior, as a third mainstream new platform, to boost annual global sales to 300,000. That is the volume the Italian automaker says it needs to be profitable.
The Junior is expected to sell 60,000 to 80,000 units a year. The two larger platforms - the 148 and 159 and related Brera coupe and Spider - are supposed to each generate 100,000 to 120,000 units a year.
It is an ambitious goal. Alfa Romeo sold 126,000 cars globally last year, down from 153,000 in 2004 and 203,000 in 2001. The peak was 229,700 sales in 1989.
To make the Junior a hot sporty model, Fiat Powertrain Technology is preparing a 230-hp turbocharged and gasoline direct-injection version of its 1.8-liter engine. In normally aspirated form, the engine delivers 140 hp in the Alfa GT.
The Junior's range-topping 230-hp version will come with Alfa's Q2 part-time four-wheel-drive transmission as standard.
The Q2 system, based on a central coupling device from Sweden's Haldex AB, transfers some torque to the rear axle only when the front wheels are spinning. It is lighter, less expensive and has better fuel economy than a permanent four-wheel-drive system.
The Junior also is expected to offer less powerful gasoline and diesel engines, with front-wheel drive only.
You may e-mail Luca Ciferri at [email protected]