Alfa Romeo calls it a ‘Perfect blend of the new paradigm and maximum expression of the meccanica delle emozioni’ and we couldn’t agree more with that. If the new Giulia is the first sign of what we can expect from Alfa Romeo in the (near) future, then one of the most evocative brands in automotive history is back. Or not?
Looking at the unmistakably gorgeous design of the Giulia we can safely say that Alfa Romeo is on the right track again. It has the right blend of sportiness, flair and Italian beauty. But, the 8C and 4C are also very impressive and highly desirable cars, so good design – or the lack thereof – was not really the problem. For too long the iconic Italian brand has re-badged compact models from mother company Fiat and focussed entirely on Europe after waving the United States goodbye in 1995 and leaving the 164 as a last reminder.
Launching a new premium model twenty years later, does not automatically bring back Alfa Romeo to premium status. As much as we love the brand and its history, it is basically a small niche company with only a very small group of customers who are actually aware of this rich history. It is evident then, that Fiat’s business model for Alfa Romeo needed improvement and – maybe even more important – that a return to the American market needs to be part of that plan. To re-establish itself as a global brand the 8C was launched in 2007, but this car was basically a marketing tool. The 4C that followed in 2013 might be a hell of a lot more affordable, but it still does not have the potential to save the brand. Two seaters are not the right sort of vehicle to keep a struggling mass manufacturer in business. They do draw attention from the public however and even have the potential to draw customers into the dealerships. One very important necessity in that case is a broad line-up of vehicles so these customers have enough alternatives to choose from if they cannot afford (or have no use for) the sports car that lured them in.
And that is where our concerns about Alfa Romeo are. By giving us the Giulia, Alfa has only one volume model that is suitable for US dealers. That is not enough to reach the goal of selling 400,000 cars globally and about 150,000 cars in North America by 2018. Worldwide sales in 2015 was just under 70,000 cars, so is the Giulia going to fill that 330,000 car void all by itself? With a 5.6 billion dollar investment plan FCA not only developed the Giulia, but will also launch an SUV in 2016 and a large sedan in 2017. That still means only three models, four if we count the 4C, have to generate a huge increase in sales in only three years. We hate to say it, but it is really hard to believe predictions like that. Becoming a premium manufacturer is not simply a matter of creating a buzz and waiting for customers to come in. It is a process that takes decades and Audi is the best – and most recent – example in that case. The German brand started development of premium cars in the late eighties with the V8 and invested millions just to race it in the very popular DTM racing series. Alfa Romeo was a competitor in that series as well, with the 155, but this model was actually the first sign of the downsizing movement within the Fiat Group. Nowadays Audi sells about 180,000 cars in the US but they have a twenty model line-up! Even Infiniti with sales of about 120,000 cars in the US, has ten models to choose from. So, Alfa Romeo becoming a global mass manufacturer of premium cars just overnight is something we would love to see, but we simply cannot believe.
We do however believe that Alfa Romeo created the absolute best mid engine compact sports car with the 4C and showed us they will come up with one of the best looking compact sedans on the market. The Giulia Q4 is believed to offer about 500 BHP making it more powerful than the three thoroughbreds from Germany (C 63 AMG, M3 and S4). So, the most important thing here is the fact that one of our favourite manufacturers has found its roots again and is back to where it left of many decades ago. In the end that should be enough to get the bean counters happy again. We understand that Alfa Romeo needs to build more cars to survive, but we also know these cars need to be much more attractive than before and that is exactly what FCA is focussing on right now. Aristotle once said: “Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.” So there we have it: take your time Alfa Romeo.