Alfa owner FCA’s new partnership with PSA makes belt-tightening inevitable – but also gives fresh hope for the overdue new product line-up. By Georg Kacher.
FAMINE NOW, FEAST LATER
The past nine fruitless seasons of grand planning for Alfa Romeo could make a highly entertaining Netflix original. The story has everything: passion, high finance, a shotgun marriage and tragedy. And now a new hope.
Flash back to 2011, when FCA chief Sergio Marchionne had promised the Alfisti a wealth of treats. A compact rear-wheel-drive model aimed squarely at the BMW 3-series, a new five-door Mito, a Giulietta replacement, the Giulia estate, the comeback of the Spider, the Stelvio and a second crossover model positioned above it, a large flagship saloon, and more. Propelled by these so-called ‘brand igniters’, the sales volume was set to increase from rock bottom to 400,000 units by 2014. We all know Marchionne got the timing, the portfolio management and the production projections terribly, terribly wrong.
The new post-Marchionne management took a machete to the portfolio
But this did not stop him from signing off a €5bn investment plan only four years later, which previewed – on top of the already full plate – a second Giulietta body style for 2017 and a supercar just a year later. In 2018 – shortly before his death – Marchionne renewed the sales forecast he had missed by a long shot, basing this latest vision on nine new models, which now also included long-wheelbase editions of the Giulia and Stelvio.
The date for the big sales lift-off was now put at 2022. But even so, 400,000 cars a year? No way. Instead, market penetration fell to new lows in 2015 when only 65,000 Alfa buyers signed on the dotted line worldwide. Three years later, registrations had nearly doubled to 120,000, giving cause for optimism.
Out of the blue on 31 October 2019 the new post-Marchionne management nixed out all previous estimates, took a machete to the portfolio and drastically reduced capital spending. The redefined mission was, bluntly speaking, to survive with trimmed-down model range featuring the facelifted Giulia and Stelvio in 2021, as well as the fresh Tonale and a new B-segment crossover due in 2022. The arthritic Giulietta is due to die in 2023 at the very latest, while the next Giulia generation is, at this point, conspicuous by its absence from the cycle plan.
The other big development last autumn was the deal that partners FCA – now run by Michael Manley – with PSA, run by Carlos Tavares, whose huge success has in large part depended on streamlining and cost-cutting.
Although the Giulia is currently based on the rear- or all-wheel- drive ‘Giorgio’ components set shared with Maserati, the replacement may switch to the EMP2 matrix masterminded by PSA. EMP2 will underpin the future Vauxhall/Opel Insignia and the next top-of-the-line Citroën/Peugeot; it can also accommodate a V6, is all-wheel-drive capable and will be offered in plug-in-hybrid guise with an all-electric derivative to follow.
If this FCA-to-PSA platform shift does happen, the 503bhp Giulia Quadrifoglio will be history in its present form. There is, however, already talk of a code-shared 300bhp ‘GTA’ model, supported by a 134bhp electric motor driving the rear wheels.
Not enough grunt? The corporate strategists hope that horsepower- minded Alfa customers will, in the future, take a closer look at Maserati instead of defecting straight to the Germans.
Another EMP2 candidate is the Stelvio MkII which could merge with the Peugeot 5008, DS 7 and Vauxhall Grandland X. Both Alfa models would of course occupy the premium end of their segments, offering more power, panache and prestige than their more mainstream siblings.
The key volume driver is going to be the Tonale, which slots in between BMW X1 and X3 in terms of dimensions. Alfa expects to build up to 65,000 units per year of the compact crossover in its Pomigliano d’Arco factory, where the newcomer is to share the assembly line with the next-generation Fiat Panda and the Jeep Compass/Renegade. Like the Fiat, the Tonale five-door crossover will also be offered as PHEV.
Expect the Tonale to stick with FCA underpinnings rather than make a last-minute leap to PSA componentry. But when it comes to the projected B-SUV, Alfa has an extra year to play with, and there is even a suitable donor car available in the shape of the CMP-platformed Peugeot 2008 and DS 3 Crossback. Better still, the drivetrain package of the zero-emission e-208 would also be a perfect fit for the still nameless entry-level model. Alternatively, Alfa could twin the B-UV with the small Jeep JJ which is destined for assembly in Tychy, Poland, from 2022.
The compressed product strategy may not appeal to aficionados, but it makes financial sense. The revised business plan should create enough fresh metal to boost the slack showroom traffic, its widespread synergies helping to control costs. Having said that, the marque is knee-deep in red ink under Tim Kunsikis (who was appointed CEO in 2018) so will have to lower its flight altitude. The danger is that after a decade of chasing unrealistic goals, Alfa’s latest approach to prosperity may propel the brand in the wrong direction by being too lowbrow and risk-averse.
Current Alfa chief exec Tim Kunsikis and the car that could lead the revival, this year’s new Tonale.
PSA’s Carlos Tavares and FCA’s Michael Manley: two great leaders now with a shared mission