TURIN -- Sergio Marchionne's risky, $6 billion plan to turn Alfa Romeo into a premium brand -- one that can challenge BMW and Audi and end decades of dismal performance -- begins with three new models that will arrive by the end of 2017.
Those vehicles -- and five more scheduled to follow by 2018 -- represent a huge undertaking for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, although one that may finally be gaining traction.
FCA is set to show its new Giulia midsize sedan this week and will follow with a midsize SUV and flagship sedan, according to supplier sources involved in the projects.
The products are the opening salvos in an effort to overhaul Alfa and increase its global sales from 70,000 vehicles last year to 400,000 by 2018. About 150,000 of the sales goal are expected in North America.
The Giulia will debut in Europe early next year and will arrive in U.S. showrooms between April and June, sources say. It will be followed by a midsize SUV in late 2016 and a flagship sedan in 2017.
The challenge is enormous, and so are the risks for Marchionne. FCA's CEO is counting on Alfa's relaunch to move the group out of Europe's fiercely competitive mass-volume market and gain a foothold in the fast-growing American luxury market.
But there is a long way to go for the brand. Although FCA does not report Alfa Romeo's financial results, analysts say it has been bleeding cash since long before Marchionne joined Fiat 11 years ago.
The broad strokes of the relaunch plan were unveiled by Marchionne in May 2014 and include eight new models between 2015 and 2018, not including the low-volume 4C coupe and 4C Spider.
In January, Marchionne updated the plan. He said one model will arrive in 2015 and seven between 2016 and 2018, but he didn't say in which order they would appear. The eight are:
- The Giulia being previewed this week.
- A full-size sedan -- the project 961 flagship.
- Two SUVs, project 949 and a second one to come later.
- A second midsize model, which sources say may be a large coupe.
- A specialty vehicle, expected to be a two-seat roadster.
- Two compact models, one of which is expected to replace the Giulietta.
But the product cadence will be highly concentrated in the last three years of the five-year plan that ends in 2018, causing some analysts to question whether Alfa Romeo can even get close to its target. IHS Automotive forecasts 2018 sales of about 216,000 cars.
An FCA spokesman declined to comment on Alfa's product strategy beyond what the company announced previously.
This week, Marchionne will preview the Giulia at the Alfa Romeo museum in Arese, outside Milan, where the carmaker was based from 1963 until Fiat took it over in 1986. The June 24 unveiling falls on the 105th anniversary of the founding of Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili, which became better known as Alfa Romeo.
Delayed a number of times in the past four years, the Giulia is Alfa Romeo's first new volume model since the MiTo subcompact was launched in 2008. The sedan will go against the Audi A4 and BMW 3 series, fitting into a space vacated when Alfa's Europe-only 159 was discontinued in 2011. It will debut in September at the Frankfurt auto show.