TURIN, Italy -- Fiat has added another piece to Alfa Romeo's lineup for the sporty Italian brand's return to the United States: a rear-wheel-drive roadster co-developed with Mazda Motor Corp.
For years, Alfa struggled with how to replace its front-wheel-drive Spider with a rwd model to evoke the iconic Duetto Spider, launched in 1966. Actor Dustin Hoffman made the car famous in the movie The Graduate.
Due in 2015 and built by Mazda in Hiroshima, Japan, Alfa's new Spider will share a chassis with the fourth-generation MX-5 Miata, Fiat and Mazda announced last week. Mazda says the MX-5 is the best-selling roadster in auto history, with more than 900,000 units sold since its introduction in 1989.
Alfa and Mazda will co-develop the lightweight chassis for the two roadsters. Each brand will get its own styling and engines.
Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said: "By partnering with Mazda, we will be cooperating with the recognized leader in compact rear-drive vehicle architectures in order to deliver an exciting and stylish roadster in the Alfa Romeo tradition."
Before the Spider arrives in the United States, Alfa in 2014 plans to launch two U.S.-built models co-developed with Chrysler Group:
n A mid-sized sedan, dubbed the Giulia, which will share a platform and production line with the successor to the Chrysler 200, a model due next year.
n An unnamed mid-sized crossover, which will share a platform and manufacturing line with the 2013 replacement for the Jeep Liberty.
The Alfas will be sold at many U.S. Fiat dealerships. Many U.S. Fiat dealers, because they sell only the 500 subcompact, are counting on Alfas to build profits.
Alfa has maintained a toehold in the United States. Between 2008 and 2010 Alfa sold about 100 units of the 8C Competizione coupe and 8C Spider limited edition models through Maserati dealers.
In late 2013, Alfa will try to make a splash with driving enthusiasts by offering a low-volume model, the 4C coupe, in the United States. The 4C, a "baby" Alfa 8C, has a body of carbon-fiber reinforced plastic, a 250-hp, turbocharged 1.8-liter direct-injection gasoline engine and rwd. Maserati will build about 2,500 4Cs a year for Alfa.
Alfa needs a full-fledged return to the United States to boost global sales to sustainable volumes. Last year, Alfa's global sales rose 18 percent to about 132,000 units, of which 130,000 were in Europe.
But from January to April, when overall European auto sales declined 7 percent, Alfa sales dropped 32 percent to 36,000 units.
Moreover, Alfa is selling just two nameplates, the MiTo subcompact and Giulietta compact hatchback.
For comparison, even Fiat's luxury brands sell more nameplates: Ferrari has five and Maserati has three.