Might Alfa Romeo finally get a true savior in Carlos Tavares? Since 2014, the Portuguese executive has guided the nearly bankrupt PSA Group back into the black, and after taking over Opel/Vauxhall, he quickly ended chronic losses at the former General Motors subsidiary.
If PSA and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles merge, Tavares would have the chance to attempt what might be his toughest turnaround yet.
The storied Italian sports car brand has humbled more than one powerful executive. Under former FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne, three attempts to put Alfa on the right track flopped.
Mike Manley, who succeeded the late Marchionne in July 2018, needed less than 18 months to realize that Marchionne's final relaunch plan for Alfa was unachievable. Manley showed this in October when he said Alfa Romeo would grow to four models by 2022 instead of expanding to seven vehicles by then, which is what was promised in the 2018 plan.
Alfa's vehicles — the Giulia midsize sedan, Stelvio midsize crossover and the Giulietta compact hatchback — cover three segments, but only one is a utility vehicle and none offers electrification. By 2022, the lineup is expected to be made up of the Giulia, Stelvio, a new compact SUV and a new small SUV. Both of the new SUVs are expected to be electrified.
Alfa sales fell 42 percent in Europe and 27 percent in the U.S. during the first nine months of this year.
The double-digit declines likely contributed to FCA's decision to scale back Alfa's product plans, a move that also will help the Italian American automaker reduce capital spending.
Alfa Romeo received a bit of good news last month when Tavares, the designated future CEO of the combined automakers, said no brand would be discontinued if the companies merge. The sobering reality is that even if the merger goes through, Alfa Romeo will have to compete with a small, aging product range for the next two to three years, likely resulting in a further deterioration of its market share.
Other positive notes for Alfa are that Tavares is a true "car guy" who races in his spare time, and he successfully resurrected the Alpine low-volume performance brand while he was the No. 2 at Renault.
He also could leverage PSA's platforms to strengthen Alfa's future lineup, ensuring a more regular stream of new products than it has had for the past 15 years.
Tavares, however, is also a no-nonsense executive who wants profits and won't hesitate to make hard choices to get them. After FCA's more than a decade of overpromising and underdelivering, Tavares might be the only automotive executive around capable of achieving sustainable success at Alfa Romeo.