Years after exiting the U.S. market, Alfa Romeo plans to storm the United States again with its new lineup of sport models. The Milan-based automaker is set to re-enter the U.S. market beginning next year.
Alfa Romeo, owned by Fiat S.p.A., which in turn owns 30 percent of Chrysler and shares the same CEO Sergio Marchionne with Chrysler, is excited to set its foot again on American soil after a 16-year absense.
Americans likely remember Alfa as having made sporty sedans and convertibles, although its time in the U.S. market was plagued by reliability concerns. But with such issues behind it and new distribution channels in the United States via its partner Chrysler, it is ready for re-entry, Marchionne said.
"Alfa is undoubtedly critical to the group," says Marchionne to reporters in Milan. "It's a premium sport brand. These brands move faster technologically, and there's more profitability there, which allows you to fund R&D. Those technologies become the base for the volume cars of the next generation,” added Marchionne.
The first Alfa model that will enter United States next year will be 4C—a compact sports car. According to Automotive News, the 4C model will be built using carbon fiber and aluminum and its weight will be less than 1,800 pounds. There is still no price projection given for the American market, but on the European market, it will be priced at around $62,000.
The official press release from Alfa Romeo describes C4 as “a compact ‘supercar,’ which represents the true essence of a sports car, according to the brand’s values: performance, Italian style, and technical excellence aimed at maximum driving pleasure in total safety. … The powerful 1750 Turbo petrol engine allows the 4C Concept to reach a top speed of over 250 kmh [155mph] and to accelerate from 0 to 100 km in under 5 seconds.”
Besides the C4, Alfa plans to introduce a lineup of another five models between 2012 and 2014, including the highly awaited mid-size sedan Guilia model, its production has been delayed due to Marchionne’s dissatisfaction with its design—saying that it’s not ready yet for the American market. This model is crucial to the Alfa’s re-entry into the United States, as it focuses on a much larger target market ranging from sport to family car lovers, whereas most of Alfa’s other models are exclusively for sporty audiences.
The new Alfa Romeo Guilia will be built on a totally distinct platform named C-Evoluzione; where the chassis will have a longer wheelbase enabling more aerodynamic shorter overhangs armed with a more sophisticated suspension. Guilia model will replace the current 159 model, offering a sportier all-wheel drive system with a stability enhancing Active Roll Control system. The model will come with a range of engines such as a gas burning 1.75 liter turbocharged unit making 200 HP or diesel burning 2.0 liter JTDM engine making 170 horsepower as well as 1.9 liter TwinTurbo engine firing up to 190 horsepower.
Armed with Alfa Romeo in its lineup, Fiat/Chrysler will battle head to head in the United States with the hot German luxury sport cars—Audi, BMW, Mercedes, and Porsche, which have been racking up extremely high sales in the past year. Fiat’s goal is to make Alfa Romeo a similar success story like Volkswagen that capitalized on its hottest brand—Audi, which has been selling like hot cakes, with orders put on hold for months.
Fiat’s Marchionne has set aggressive targets to reach 500,000 sales in 2014, and 85,000 of Alfa Romeo vehicles in North America. This is four times its current sales for 2010.
Many analysts have been skeptical of such high target. “Reaching Marchionne's targets for Alfa in the time frame they're talking about looks extremely ambitious," says Max Warburton, a Sanford C. Bernstein analyst who also estimates that Alpha has lost 300 million euros (US$433 million) during 2010. "Alfa is a fabulous brand which hasn't had the right products. It's going to take a long time," he added.
Whether or not Alfa will reach 500,000 cars in 2014 remains to be seen, but having a stylish and fresh stallion in the Fiat’s stable will surely help to boost its sales in the U.S. market.