What are Alfa Romeo Selling? Just Wondered.

Alfa Romeo’s fight-back continues for its third straight decade.

Alfa´s complete UK model-line up
Alfa´s complete UK model-line up

The image is a screen shot of Alfa Romeo UK’s website. Notice that there is a rather glaring gap to the right. They do actually sell (or try to sell) three cars but only show two. I wondered why this might be. Are they so strapped for cash that they don’t have the resources to insert the third car into the image? Or is there another “third car” coming soon to fill the space? The German AR website at least adds the Quadrifoglio versions to the array to pad things out a bit.

All of my adult life I have been reading of Alfa Romeo’s stunning resurgence. I think there is a template available at automotive journalism school to help write such a story. Presently it seems as if the story is finally winding to a close as the range dwindles to two irrelevances and the 4C (making three, I suppose). This seems to be such a pity, that the fine tradition of the biannual “Alfa’s comeback” story will be consigned to the past.

The tale has such a finely curved arc of success, failure and rebirth with the prospect of a glittering future to put joy in the hearts of all car enthusiasts. It is a sad ending to what ought to have been the history of Alfa climbing back to reclaim their position as a real contender. In such a scenario Alfas would feature in group tests against BMWs and Audis. And win, sometimes.

1979 Alfa Romeo Six: foundations for future success?
1979 Alfa Romeo Six: foundations for future success?

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

12 thoughts on “What are Alfa Romeo Selling? Just Wondered.”

  1. I experienced my personal first Alfa comeback in the 1990s, when the 156/147 seemed to herald a new golden age for Milanese car manufacturing. Back in the day, I believed it, actually: both cars were selling well, had plenty of charm (covering up most of their insipid Fiat innards) and were considered worthwhile semi-premium offerings. But whatever momentum they might have generated was eventually lost, giving way to increasingly daft facelifts and an obvious lack of inspiration, which eventually turned into semi-desperation.

    Age hasn’t been kind to both these cars, figuratively speaking, as well as literally. Their often faded badges and greying plastics betray their 1990s Fiat levels of quality, which, together with often less-than-diligent second, third and fourth owners, means they’ll have to endure at least a decade and a half before their almost complete disappearance will alarm enthusiasts that these “last proper Alfas (of some kind)” deserve some appreciation. But before this happens, I’m hoping for the preceding, Enrico Fumia-styled generation of Alfas to receive some recognition. While they’re not for me, I consider the first FWD Spider/GTV, 164 and even the 145 minor icons of a fleeting late ’80s/early ’90s style that’s turned into a refreshingly exotic sight on today’s roads. And many of their engines are both good to look at and to listen to.

    In the meantime, these photos ( http://ruoteclassiche.quattroruote.it/extra/la-capitolazione-di-arese/ ) and this video ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8K2xdpq1oNw ) sum up Alfa’s current state much more accurately than any obscure limited production sports car oddities.

  2. Although I’ve never owned an Alfa, I decided to promote myself to the ranks of the Alfisti several years ago. I’d quite like to own an 8C 2900B Mille Miglia or a Giulia Berlina – I don’t mind which. The video of bemused Alfa drivers passing around Arese is suitably downbeat. The still of the interior of the deserted factory with a single Alfetta parked inside it did make me wonder if it was still waiting to have all 87 fails on its pre-delivery inspection completed. It is amazing how, having managed to elevate Alfa’s image against the odds through a style-over-content sleight of hand, Fiat just let it trickle away again through indecision and cynicism. The Giulietta looks OK, the Mito doesn’t, but why would I ever want either? For some brands, adequate is just not good enough.

  3. Fiat have allowed Alfa Romeo wither and die in broadly similar manner to the manner in which they eviscerated Lancia. A towering lack of vision. Poorly conceived and realised product. A total lack of consistency. Poor material quality and shoddy build. A justified reputation for mechanical and electrical frailty and expensive repair. An importer and dealership network who is at best apathetic.

    But Alfa is on the way back folks! Any day now. Yep, it’s coming, so get ready. No, really, it is. Where are you going? Come back!

  4. Even five years ago the current state of Alfa would have been hard to imagine. The decline of Alfa and Lancia is of a piece with the decline of Fiat. The following research question occurred to me. If you plotted the average age of models over Rover´s last fifteen years, Lancia´s last fifteen before being taken over, the Rootes group´s last fifteen years and maybe AMC´s last fifteen years would you see a pattern? What I expect to find is that the average age of the models (how long in production) increases to some percentage above the industry norm and then comes extinction. If the average age of a product range is, say, X, for a healthy firm then the average age before closure might be Y then all you need to do is calculate the rate of ageing of a product range to know when a car company was going to close or be sold off. Looking at Fiat overall, I think they have a diminished range of uncompetitive products; and Alfa has passed the point of ever recovering. They have two newish cars, true but only these. Looking at Fiat group as a whole, I would suppose their product line-up is now in the morbid range. They don´t have money to invest in Alfa and are letting Lancia die. I would suppose this problem is beyond Fiat but actually indicative of Italy as whole which is a land in decline. The matter is political and cultural more than just a matter of bad management within a single firm.

    1. Marchionne’s strategy is perplexing. He’s clearly not stupid. He understands the market. He’s almost certainly very well informed. Yet he appears as blind to realities as each of his predecessors. Fiat as a brand is fatally tarnished. It has no equity in the marketplace and the cost of pitching it upmarket would be ruinous. Lancia, despite everything that’s been foisted upon it retains some cachet, but he seems determined to kill it. The only strategy I can see that makes any sense is to rebrand Fiat as a Dacia-style value brand. (Small economy cars only) Re-engineer and re-body everything else as Alfa Romeo and leverage the brand for all it’s worth, globally. Invest in a full model range in market sectors that have traction and ensure the product is competitive across all the metrics that matter. This should have happened years ago and it may already be too late. Frankly, I can’t help believing that the gameplan still involves selling Alfa. Any other scenario is lunacy and despite all evidence to the contrary, Marchionne is not mad.

    2. The only other strategy I can see – and a much more risky one – is relying on Maserati’s re-positioning to garner enough funding to develop a BMW-challenging Alfa range. This may sound daft, but the Alfa marque is obviously as overvalued as Lancia is devalued*. I can actually see the appeal of the economies of scale of a combined Maserati-Alfa platform strategy, but that’s only of theoretical value. In reality, the new Maseratis apparently boast stellar engines (which I have yet to experience myself), but the cars’ appearance is massively disappointing to someone who could forgive the Quattroporte V almost any shortcomings, thanks to its overall panache. Yet the Maserati plan may just about work out: it is, all things considered, always easier to go mass-market with a prestige brand than trying to polish a humdrum badge until it actually begins to shine (unless it’s Ferdinand Piech wielding the cloth, that is). A cheap Maserati may sound like a bit of a bargain, but an expensive Alfa sounds just ridiculous.

      * The last time I believe Alfa could actually be considered remotely in BMWs league was in the early ’70s. But even then, my dad chose a BMW 2002 instead of a Giulia Super after having had a nightmarish experience running a Fiat for a while. He would remain loyal to the propeller for 30 years…

  5. In the Sixties when, despite the Swinging veneer, most UK industry was stodgy and hidebound, Italy seemed a beacon of resourcefulness and style. For that reason I find it particularly sad that Fiat has got lost in this pit though, of course, Italy’s woes have been a long time coming and Alfa’s glory years ended in the early 70s. Actually, looking back at its history, as a manufacturer of desirable, yet attainable, sporty cars, it can be argued that Alfa’s glory years only lasted for maybe 15 years, and were due to the foresight of one man, Orazio Satta Puliga. Like Jaguar and Bill Lyons, after he left (and probably for a while before, since he was ill) Alfa lost its way.

    For engineers and designers at Fiat / Alfa / Lancia, it must be doubly depressing that much of what they work on doesn’t come to fruition. The new Giulia reminds me that Elvis never toured the UK. It was always being mooted, but I guess the Colonel didn’t fancy the food and, in the end, Elvis died instead. I could draw this analogy painfully on.

  6. I have had similar thoughts to Kubrick about the most sustainable way forward for Alfa – Fiat has bothered to invest in a rear drive platform for Maserati and brought the range down market a little. Surely they can spin-off a couple of Alfa models from this? I’d have thought a “166” replacement, a “156/9” replacement, estates for each and at least one coupe and convertable (Spider?) and, because I want them to make money in the long term, an SUV. The latter is abhorent but a commercial necessity these days. Lord knows how they will afford to replace the current Giulietta with a new platform. Fiat does not seem to understand that if they are going to bother with any of their marques, they need to produce a healthy number of models and varients of those models to make them sustainable. FIat’s strategy is so chaotic that it seems that, having signed up with Mazda to use the MX5 platform to develop a Spider, it’s intention to market the brand as “Made in Milan” means it is having second thoughts – could it become an Arbarth? Sheeeeesh, you really would struggle to make it up!

  7. There´s more Alfa Romeo news today. Car magazine has reported that nine new cars are planned in the next five years. I would like to remind you that in May 11 new cars were planned as part of an Alfa-Maserati joint product development plan. And Automotive News are reporting on the new engines for these cars. Going against the trend they are from 2.0 up to 3.0, three petrol engines and one diesel. I feel exhausted by all Alfa Romeo´s new plans. The Giulia saloon is supposedly due in 2016. Their dealers in the meantime must have a hard time making a living selling AR floor mats, keyrings and mugs to their customers. If they have any.

  8. I’m interested in Car Magazine’s report but I think it’s time DTW went up against the big boys and I feel we should top that.

    “Driven To Write, The World’s Least Influential Motoring Blog, today announced that Alfa Romeo are planning 12 new cars to be introduced between now and Christmas. Sources in the firm also confirmed that the company’s first 230 metre megayacht had received the green light and that plans for a Mars Shuttle had been signed off by senior management. FCA supremo Sergio Marchionne, sporting a seasonal red and white jumper featuring trees and reindeer was otherwise unavailable to comment, save that the knitwear was a present from Luca di Montezemolo.”

  9. I was rude enough to point out to Car that it had been only half a year since the last announcement of hopes about intentions to plan possible future Alfa Romeos. After 24 hours the story was buried so you need to know it exists to dig it up using the Car search tool. Embarrassment?
    The replacement story involved the top seven (?) concept cars of the year. Unusually they were all low and sleek sportscars. It’s great that sportscar concepts get a look in now again!

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