TURIN -- Fiat and Chrysler engineers are working on a rear- and all-wheel-drive platform for Alfa Romeo, Chrysler and Dodge cars, sources said.
The platform would help Alfa Romeo compete better with German rivals BMW and Mercedes-Benz, which offer rear-wheel-drive cars favored by many driving enthusiasts. Currently, Alfa does not sell any rwd models.
The platform would underpin the Alfa Romeo Giulia mid-sized sedan and a new Alfa flagship sedan, two people with knowledge of the matter told Automotive News Europe. It would also be used for the replacements for the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger large sedans, as well as the future Dodge Challenger coupe, the sources said.
The project is still a feasibility study and not signed off for production yet, but it could generate the first production models by the end of 2015, one source said.
Alfa originally planned to replace its aging 159 in 2014 with a Giula sedan and wagon based on the CUSW (compact US wide) architecture introduced on the 2010 Alfa Giulietta compact and widened for the 2012 Dodge Dart. CUSW also underpins the 2013 Jeep Cherokee SUV and the Chrysler 200 replacement, due next year.
Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne earlier this month said Fiat is working on future Alfa models but the plans are "top secret." Fiat has been searching for a suitable rwd platform to underpin Alfa cars since Marchionne joined the Italian automaker nine years ago.
Alfa has sold only front-wheel-drive volume cars since it discontinued the Spider in 1993. The Alfa 4C small roadster due by the end of the year will be rwd but it will be low volume.
A fwd architecture, which has the engine mounted transversely, offers better traction on slippery surfaces, but is inferior to a rwd platform in terms of driving dynamics. A fwd platform also forces designers to create a long front overhang, resulting in a disproportional nose, such as on the 159 sedan and wagon and Brera coupe/spider.
A rwd platform, in which the engine is mounted longitudinally, has better driving dynamics, as well a more balanced styling when the car is seen from the side, with a short front overhang and long wheelbase.
Fiat-Chrysler would face high costs to adapt factories to build rwd drive cars. Chrysler's Brampton plant, in Ontario, Canada, is the group's only factory that builds rwd vehicles.