Alfa's Ambitions: Eight new models by 2018
Alfa Romeo's return to the U.S. market begins in earnest this summer with the debut of its first volume model, a D-sized sedan designed to compete with the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes- Benz C-Class and Audi A4. According to Reid Bigland, Alfa's U.S. chief, the sedan will be followed by a compact SUV and then a large sedan to complement existing sales of the two-seat Alfa Romeo 4C. By 2018, Bigland said Alfa will have eight new models as part of a $6 billion investment in the brand by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
Bigland believes Alfa Romeo can fill a premium luxury gap between domestically produced Chrysler products and the higher end entries produced by Maserati while carving out a unique space among upscale brands. "The great thing Alfa has going for it is that it's not German," Bigland explained. "It has Italian exotic roots and legacy. It's for people who are looking for an alternative to Mercedes, BMW and Porsche." He added that the products will also stress a sporting character that is part of Alfa tradition. And with brands positioned above and below in the FCA family, there's an opportunity to create a more clear cut image for the products.
In referring to the German competition, Bigland notes that those brands added lower priced models to expand volume. "Alfa has an opportunity to be more pure from a performance-luxury standpoint and not get down to the $29,000 price point", he said, adding that "Chrysler Fiat has that covered."
Alfa's sweet spot
The sweet spot for Alfa Romeo, according to Bigland, is between $40,000 and $80,000, noting that he expects the D sedan to start somewhere around the lower figure. At the top end, Alfa will rub against Maserati, which offers the Ghibli at about $70,000. "There will be a little overlap on the fringes but for the most part, we can go in pretty pure in that space" he said. "You can't get a $50,000 Maserati; you can't get a $60,000 Maserati. That's a lot of market that Alfa can play in quite nicely with the D sedan and the next one on the horizon, the D SUV, which is the second largest premium segment."
While the first Alfa Romeo to be sold in nearly a generation was the $300,000 limited edition 8C, Bigland doesn't see the brand offering a vehicle that expensive, leaving that market to Maserati and Ferrari. "We need to stay pretty disciplined and really go after that premium performance segment."
But by the same token, don't expect to see badge engineered models, either. FCA decided that instead of basing an Alfa Spider off the next generation Mazda MX-5 Miata, that car will now become the Fiat 124 and while Bigland was noncommittal about another two-seater in a lower price range to complement the $70,000 Alfa 4C, it's rumored there is such a vehicle in the product plan. FCA chairman Sergio Marchionne has said the decision to convert the joint venture spider to a Fiat reflects the desire to build all Alfa products in Italy.
"We need to be disciplined and very true to Alfa," Bigland explained. "We cannot contaminate Alfas with mass market or common engines. You see that where you try to rebadge something and you add leather and wood grain and try to call it premium, people see through that pretty darn quickly. It will be pure Alfa Romeo going forward. It has to be, or it's not going to be successful."