What’s Next for Alfa Romeo?

Alfa Romeo 4C Spider.
The limited-production Alfa Romeo 4C Spider.

The Alfa Romeo brand has been around for more than a century, but it remains a niche player amongst the automotive giants. The Italian marque, a division of Fiat Chrysler (FCA), averages about 125,000 sales per year globally, a number that the company would like to quadruple in the coming years.

To get to its lofty sales projection, much work and money must be dedicated to reaching that objective. At the 2015 Automotive News World Congress in Detroit this month, Reid Bigland — Head of Alfa Romeo Brand, FCA – North America — outlined the brand’s strategy.

A Blueprint for Success

Specifically, the FCA blueprint for Alfa Romeo is consists of a $6 billion investment over four years, in a bid to bring eight all-new models to the US market. Furthermore, at the recently concluded media days for the North American International Auto Show, Alfa Romeo unveiled a limited production, hand-built roadster — the 4C Spider. It arrives this summer, joining the standard and launch edition versions of the 4C.

Next up will be a mass-produced compact luxury sedan, targeting the BMW 3-Series, the segment’s bellwether. The new model will be exhibited in June, to coincide with a special gala recognizing Alfa Romeo’s 105th anniversary.

FCA’s Biggest Challenge

Bigland fielded several questions at the congress from attendees. One question asked, “What is your biggest challenge, particularly this year?” Bigland responded by stating the brand must eschew complacency and avoid falling in love with their own press. Furthermore, he noted that if they don’t remain on guard, “they’ll get their heads kicked in.”

With some 20 OEMs present in the domestic market, supplying at least 300 products and each one representing a strong offering Bigland explained, “You got to stay sharp on your products and on your programs or you are going to end up at the bottom of the pile.”

When queried about $2 per gallon gasoline prices and the effect that they have on the market, Bigland stated that the lower prices “are an indirect benefit to the new vehicle sales industry.” Undoubtedly, lower prices help consumers who have more discretionary income, what also provides a lift for the economy. However, higher fuel prices are also a driver of the industry as consumers earlier switched from larger vehicles, such as SUVs, to more fuel efficient models. Bigland believes that some drivers will now hold onto to their older cars due to lower fuel prices as the “pain each month” in fuel costs is diminished.

Pickup Truck Fuel Efficiency

Bigland, who is also senior vice president of US sales for FCA, was asked about pickup truck fuel mileage. At the Detroit auto show, FCA unveiled a variant of the Ram 1500 that is EPA rated at 29 mpg highway, giving this truck an advantage over its competitors, including the aluminum-based Ford F-150.

When asked if the mpg number mattered, Bigland explained that it did: “In the light duty pickup truck it is all about fuel economy and in the heavy duty pickup truck segment it is all about towing and payload.”

Hybrid or Hellcat

Another question asked of Bigland was whether he was surprised by the reaction or interest in the Hellcat — ultra-high performance Challenger and Charger models — making an explosive 707 horsepower? He noted that there are still a lot of enthusiasts that don’t want to get “jammed into a hybrid car” and called the Hellcat “amazing and true, American muscle.”

Of the traditional three US automakers, FCA in 2014 easily outperformed the General Motors Company and the Ford Motor Company as its sales surged by 16 percent for the year in a market that rose by 5.9 percent. Through December, FCA sales have attained 57 consecutive months of year-over year gains. Jeep and Ram are leading the push with even the beleaguered Chrysler brand now seeing renewed vigor.

FCA is expecting another banner year for 2015 with Alfa Romeo, Fiat and Dodge contributing as well. For now, Alfa Romeo will remain a boutique player, with a production ramp up yet to come.

See AlsoAbout the 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio

Photo courtesy of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

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