CARte Blanche

by Philip Djaferis

Anticipating Alfa…

Alfa Romeo’s sales are in free-fall. The MiTo is effectively forgotten and overtaken and the ‘premium’ Giulietta outclassed in every respect by the ‘generalist’ Golf. The 4C is a super-niche product and effectively a life-support element till new Alfa Romeo’s is launched.

Undoubtedly Alfa Romeo brings a huge amount of heritage with it and its a highly recognisable brand but as we are seeing from the fate of the MiTo and Giulietta it seems that only a diminishing number of die-hard Alfa fans are buying them and the base of existing owners and drivers has been diminishing for a long time. The so-called premium brands from Germany have crowded the market and have numbed the collective conscience of car buyers to believe that in terms of things automotive only a German brand can carry the premium credentials with any level of confidence. Volvo is trying to regain some of its allure, Jaguar has barely made a blip in the D segment with its XF and has invested an enormous amount into its promising XE range. Infiniti, Lexus and Cadillac are just side-shows in Europe and largely irrelevant now except for some of their niche products.

Come June 24th Alfa Romeo is set to unveil its new and yet unnamed challenger to the BMW 3-series and Mercedes C-Class and Jaguar’s XE. The anticipation of Alfisti all over the world is huge, but who will buy it? Looking at the Italian market, most potential clients have already drifted to Audi and BMW and in the other key markets like the UK where even Jaguar has had a hard time convincing its home crowd to switch ‘everyone’ is driving a BMW 3-series or Audi A4 already.

Mr. Marchione has delayed launch of the new ‘Giulia’ as he was seeking perfection.  The time gap between the demise of the 159 in 2011 and 2016 when we might see new cars on the road is an entire car’s life-cycle long…initially we were expecting to see the new car in 2013 so there will be no excuses if the product is anything less than better than all the competitors; ‘good enough’, like the 159 was, won’t pass muster. I also hope that if they come up with a station wagon version that it will be a useful car ably competitive with the German peers and the same goes for the rather overcrowded SUV market. How many rabbits can he pull out of his hat in quick succession?

One can take styling supremacy as a given, or at least one would expect it, but apart from that he has to deliver products which are class leading in each segment he enters. Comparisons will be rigorous and without mercy now that the rear wheel drive platform will be absolutely comparable to the main competition.

Will Alfa Romeo regain its allure? It will be a tough call. The product has to be ‘bullet proof’ and that not all. Their sales network is not the best and mostly a part of the Fiat network with too many very ‘low rent’ looking outlets. Enhancing them to look anything close to what BMW or Audi offers will take years as well as huge investments from their partners who have hardly been subsisting on the current products. Customer experience is what all in the premium tout and second best won’t do here either. and motor sport? when was the last time anybody saw any Alfa Romeo mixing it with the best? The German DTM was an amazing platform for them in the past, and hopefully they will have the spunk to go into something like that again.

Alfa Romeo is living in interesting times, to use an overused cliché…

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