Chrysler-Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne acknowledges a conflict over whether Maserati or Fiat dealers will sell Alfa Romeos in the United States, but said his plan is that “the best performing Fiat dealers will be the ones that will be entitled to have a crack at Alfa Romeo distribution.”
His statement differs from one in late September by Harald Wester, the global head of Fiat’s Alfa Romeo and Maserati brands, and an underling of Marchionne.
Wester told Automotive News in an e-mail that the Alfa Romeo 4C coupe, which is intended to lead Alfa Romeo’s return to the United States, would be sold through U.S. Maserati dealers when it arrives next year.
Maserati’s 68 U.S. dealerships are outside of the Chrysler dealer network, which includes about 210 Fiat dealerships that had expected to sell Alfa Romeos.
Last week, in an amended filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission related to its proposed initial public offering, Chrysler Group was unequivocal about where Alfa Romeos will be sold in North America.
“In 2011, we began distributing Alfa Romeo vehicles in Mexico, and have exclusive distribution rights for Alfa Romeo in the U.S. and Canada,” Chrysler wrote in the amended filing.
An earlier version of the section read: “we expect to sell Alfa Romeo vehicles in the U.S. and Canada.”
Chrysler spokesman Gualberto Ranieri declined requests for comment on the new wording.
Wester’s statement set off an uproar in early October among struggling U.S. Fiat dealers. Many of them viewed future Alfa Romeo products as integral to their long-term business plans.
In comments to Fiat analysts and journalists last week, Marchionne sought to ease those concerns even as the distribution dispute remained unresolved. He promised that future Fiat products from Europe are coming for Fiat dealers in North America — specifically the new four-door 500L and the coming 500X crossover.
Marchionne also said that the potential of future Alfa Romeos in Fiat showrooms remains. Alfa Romeo is developing a strategic product plan that it expects to unveil next spring.
“I think our intentions are unchanged from the way in which we approach the distribution network in the U.S,” Marchionne said. “I think we’re confirming today that, subject to Fiat and Chrysler resolving issues relating to distribution of Alfa, that that strategy will be executed throughout 2014 in anticipation of products on U.S. shores in 2015.”
Fiat dealers say they can do little but concentrate on Fiat sales until the issue is resolved.
“I would be highly optimistic that the addition of Alfa Romeo would be a home run here, but we’re running our business plan and our pro forma right now based on Fiat,” said Phil Bivens, owner of Fiat of Tacoma. His store in Tacoma, Wash., is profitable and on pace to sell 700 Fiats this year, including 75 in August.
Gary Brown, chairman of the Chrysler National Dealer Council and a Fiat dealer on Long Island, said that the Alfa Romeo 4C is expected to sell fewer than 1,000 units in the United States.
“Even if we get Alfa tomorrow, we’re not going to get any volume for at least two years,” Brown said.
“Our game plan as Fiat dealers is to figure out how to make due with the product that we have and hopefully, there will be more Fiat product on the way in the next few years.”