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Auto blogWed, 16 Jan 2013 17:58:00 EST
Sergio Marchionne and his Fiat empire have a lot riding on the US return of the Alfa Romeo brand. The endeavor has been in progress for what feels like a lifetime - certainly for as long as Fiat has had the Chrysler brand under its Italian wing.
It's not surprising that Fiat CEO Marchionne needs a perfect first Alfa to mark a return to America. And here's where things get dicey. Nobody would argue with Marchionne's insistence that Alfa Romeo's be powered by Italian engines - as Marchionne himself is quoted to have said at the 2013 Detroit Auto Show, "There are some things that are well done in Italy."
If not what he said, then, it's how he said it that has eyebrows raised. "I cannot come up with a schlock product, I just won't. I won't put an American engine into that car. With all due respect to my American friends, it needs to be a wop engine." Wait, what's that?
According to a report in Automotive News that quotes "people familiar with the matter," the next big play in Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne's plan for Alfa Romeo is to break it off from Fiat Group Automobiles and set it up as a separate company within the Fiat empire, giving it the same structure as Ferrari and Maserati. The idea, say the sources, is that a transparent, standalone Alfa Romeo that has to justify its every move could clearly prove its success in the public financial statements it would have to report, finally achieving Marchionne's aim of making Alfa Romeo "a credible business proposition."
That, of course, assumes that Alfa Romeo will make a success of it. The brand hasn't made a profit in any year of Marchionne's decade at the helm; sales last year fell to numbers not seen in almost half a century and its new product offensive might not include the two vehicles currently responsible for 99 percent of its sales. We're told that the brand's six new models will begin arriving in 2016 - a roadster, a midsize sedan and large sedan, a compact SUV and large SUV, and a large coupe.
Marchionne aims to expand Alfa's global appeal in several ways, the first by stressing that they are Italian products that 'belong' to Italy. This is the stance that appears to have put the kibosh on the roadster twinned with the coming Mazda MX-5/Miata. Alfa Romeos will all be made in their home country, and if they take off they'll help bandage Fiat's problem with underused plant capacity, a bugbear that is just as problematic culturally and politically as financially. Top-tier trims would use V6 engines developed by Ferrari, and global access would get a boost by selling Alfa Romeos in Jeep's 1,700 international dealerships.
Alfa giveth and Alfa taketh away. With apologies to Job (he has gone through a lot, after all), that's how things are looking at the Italian automaker - whether it's the promise of new products or its impending return to the North American market. But it's especially true when it comes to new roadsters.
While Alfa Romeo is expected to unveil the 4C Spider at the Geneva Motor Show this week, reports are now suggesting that its other roadster project is being called into question. That project is a joint venture between Fiat and Mazda, which was set to produce a version of its next MX-5 Miata as an Alfa Romeo, and was even changing the design to accommodate Alfa's requirements.
Now it appears, however, that the whole project in doubt. The problem seems to stem from Sergio Marchionne's pronouncements that, as long as he's in charge, there won't be an Alfa Romeo built outside of Italy.