How much can a brand be stretched? Should Alfa Romeos carry an “engineered by Ferrari” badge? Or shouldn´t AR engineering speak for itself?
While trawling other news sites, I read at Autocar that Alfa Romeo´s forthcoming SUV will be based upon the Maserati Ghibli. That bit doesn´t surprise me so much as the remark that “….there have also been unconfirmed rumours that the top of the range Alfa engines will feature ‘developed by Ferrari’ sub-branding.” This has all the hall marks of an idea designed to appeal to Sergio Marchionne. It also reminds me of Silvio Berlusconi´s idea that Fiat could sell more cars by badging them as Maseratis. You might as well scribble “£10” on a £5 note. But is this such a terrible idea? Let´s put on our white hats and consider that Porsche came to no serious harm by allowing Seat to place “Porsche Design” on the tops of their Ibiza engines. I seem to recall that Ssang Yong were permitted to associate their very excellent Musso with Mercedes due to the shared engines. While we are here, lets´s take a moment to reflect on Ken Greenley´s contribution to Korean design which was much more than the superb Rodius as he penned the Musso too.
Getting back to the topic, I wonder how the “developed by Ferrari” sub-branding will go down with Ferrari owners. Is this something they can really do if Ferrari is not owned in full by FCA. On the face of it, Ferrari branding is a drag on Ferrari. How many Alfa-buyers will be impressed? And how many people will be alienated by the cynicism? That´s an open question as I feel that these days Alfa is not doing well in attracting serious, informed or, shall we say, sufficiently, ABC1 customers. Maybe Alfa buyers won´t care. To be fair, lots of otherwise fine new cars become very attractive to less-desirable groups (seen from a marketing perspective, note) but Alfa seems especially to have the kind of blue-collar appeal that Pontiac managed to claim as its own in the US in the decades before it died.
FCA need to be very careful with this little move, if it is indeed more than a rumour. There is a danger of Ferrari, Maserati and Alfa Romeo getting blended in an uncontrolled marketing storm. Such decisions could be taken and managed if FCA was a stable corporation but the reality is that it seems like one where the revolving doors at marketing provide a lot of air-freshening. What is designed as a carefully evolving ten year plan may end up being managed to destruction as marketing chiefs come and go at 18 month intervals. Every plan needs the contingency for a change of plan built in.