Alfa Romeo Erases History

Its own to be exact. This week Alfa Romeo announced a new visual identity. The signs are not good.

badge
Alfa Romeo’s new more ‘now’ emblem

It’s invariably worrying when auto manufacturers fiddle with their visual identity. Even if you’re a VW, the fact that you see fit to mess about with your trademark suggests the wrong business decisions are being prioritised and at the very least, the marketing people have run amok.

Yesterday, buried amidst the hoopla surrounding the Alfa Romeo Giulia’s semi-reveal, was the announcement of a restyled Alfa emblem. Doubtless, FCA bosses will tell you it has been simplified and modernised, but in fact the changes are a little more profound than that. The changes appear to be more of an attempt to whitewash the fabled Milanese biscione’s violent history by removing overt references to the crusades.

Alfa’s PR also now claim the serpent isn’t swallowing the hapless figure, but in fact giving birth to it; which of course is patent nonsense. If we accept that the preceding version was possibly a little politically incorrect, we also have to concede that what we have now is merely a blander, less nuanced iteration of a far richer image. But basically, for a company awash in debt, is this really what FCA should be lavishing their hard-borrowed cash upon?

alfa romeo
The old emblem before they got the brand consultants in.

Marchionne of course has form here. A couple of years ago, FCA also saw fit to alter Lancia’s famous shield emblem – under the guise of modernisation. Although in that case FCA’s intent was probably more about diluting Lancia’s visual identity as a prelude to indulging in one of the most shameless bouts of identity theft in recent history, while simultaneously giving some vacuous brand consultancy a reason to exist.

Let’s face it, if FCA management are prepared to blithely abandon 105-years of heritage to ensure nobody’s offended, it really doesn’t augur well for Alfa’s revival. And even if the resurgence is real, is it likely to be one Alfa enthusiasts will celebrate for long? It’s far more likely be a clinical, derivative Italo-German hybrid that cleaves to sector norms as resolutely as the car FCA displayed to the world two days ago.

In May last year, I made a somewhat dramatic prediction regarding the Marchionne plan – which went something as follows; “Your sacred cows will be eviscerated on the altar of commercial expediency before you and your children’s horrified gaze. Solutions will be quick, they will be dirty and there will be blood”. On present evidence I see little reason to modify my opinion.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

26 thoughts on “Alfa Romeo Erases History”

  1. I still see a big red cross and a serpent eating what was originally a child, but could be a Saracen, so I can’t quite see what this has achieved except losing the central vertical split which gives the old logo its tension. It does conjure the thought of medieval knights preparing for battle commenting bitchily on each other’s rebranded shields.

    Since the Visconti coat of arms is causing such controversy, let’s look at the car that took their name. Possibly the rear doesn’t look Alfa enough with its hints of Guigiaro’s Bugatti saloon, but ItalDesign’s 2004 concept seems in many ways fresher than the new Giulia.

  2. In typical Giugiaro form, he forgot small scale “articulation”. It would have been good in 2004 for about 18 months.
    About the graphics: graphic designers have one essential principle which is they must make changes. If they are revising an existing logo they remove information. If they have a simple logo to deal with they change it utterly and it may end up being neither simpler, better or clearer. I am thinking here of brand consultants perhaps rather the kern and serif jockeys who are craftspeople and the better for it.

  3. I hate to be an armchair CEO naysaying the whole Alfa relaunch but the new badge and the GIULIA model name badge are poor designs for no good reason. Does this latest revision make the badge cheaper to produce? Is it metal or plastic? The more questions I ask the more I feel like part of the problem than the solution. But to be honest I suspect I’d have been fine with a front-drive Giulia off a resized Giulietta platform delivered 3-5 years ago as originally planned, a Mazda MX5-derived Spider and a Kamal crossover spun off fhe Jeep Cherokee platform. Add in the 4C, Giulietta refresh and a Mito restyle and there’s a range of vehicles for dealers to sell. In the background Harald’s Hundred could be doing their extra-special rear drive purist cars from the secret bunker on the Modena ring road, ready to join the Kamal, Spider and 4C in the growing US Fiat/Alfa dealer network. You’re welcome.

  4. Lotus showed long ago that you can produce a good handling FWD car. The petrolhead snobbishness about RWD being the only way has slowly been evaporated. Sure RWD cars have a worthwhile character of their own, but the people who dogmatically insist that they are the only PROPER cars are people of my generation, and are now in the minority. As you say Mark, Alfa would have been far better advised to ensure continuity from the 159 several years ago with a FWD Giulia, maybe with a visit to Lotus or similar for a bit of help. Last week I declared (yet again) my indifference to Citroen’s fate. This week I realise that I really don’t care about Alfa Romeo any more. These brands have fallen into the hands of the unsympathetic for too long to be salvageable in my eyes. Their idea that a notional. 500+ bhp. balls-out Cloverleaf is the appropriate way to present Alfa values shows this up. Satta Puglia and others would probably be appalled.

  5. I believe the reason Alfa have gone rear wheel drive is they believe the niche for a “driver’s car” is no longer being satiated by the Germans. Jaguar appear to have come to the same conclusion, but whether that niche actually contains any sales is entirely open to conjecture, which is why the Giulia is more of a threat to the XE than anything offered by BMW.

  6. In branding terms, Alfa Romeo have always had a crap logo. Remove the lettering and it could be for anyone. The same goes for Porsche. But the importance of a logo is often overstated by people wearing black turtle-neck jumpers. Rather than brand or typography or heritage or creative solutions or thinking outside the fucking box, it is far more important to have products that people actually want to buy.

    1. Gentlemen and Ladies: with these subtle yet incredibly powerful changes to the logo, we are re-inforcing both at a subconscious and conscious level the integrity of the brand. We have opted to revise the script to make it appeal even more directly to your core customers. The beaks and brackets are now more modern in their proportions. We have adjusted the allignment throughout to bring them up to a modern, competitive 19 degrees versus the old 18.75 degrees. All the ascenders have been modified with a view expressing the dynamic, expressive, quality-led approach the company wants to project.
      Turning now to the logo, we have removed some of the clutter and allowed the remaining, core elements of the design to breathe. It spells out comfort, durability, reliability, fun, modernity and tradition plus a special interest in the customer, their family and the environment.
      I think Aylward Benthams Cars will be proud to use this to capture new customers and retain existing ones.

  7. I see two reasons for the return to RWD.

    I remember that many Alfisti scorned the 164 as not being a proper Alfa and still today look back on the 75 as the last real thing. I imagine it can be a good idea to try and bring those people back – if they still exist and haven’t been thoroughly premiumized yet.
    Another thing is that they might want to (and already do) exploit the favourable image of Maserati (as long as there’s still something left of that) by pointing out the similarity in engines and chassis architecture.

    In a way, while they are erasing parts of their history, they bring other parts back.

    1. Bearing in mind that the 164 will soon be 30 years old, a lot of the potential customers who condemned its FWD are now either permanently immobile or having their RWD thrills catered for by their mobility scooters. It’s literally a dying market.

    2. On the face of it, rear wheel drive is an irrelevance for most motorists. However, those people mostly get their received wisdom from those more interested. Alfa Romeo is possibly trying to convince opinion formers. If they accept the car then the sheeple will follow. This is what happened with BMW. A few smarter-than-average types and moneyed professionals liked the BMW proposition. Other people noticed that BMW was the car of young-ish professionals and decided to ape their purchasing habits. The next wave is when the remaining consumers notice BMWs are simply acceptable, good and smart cars because lots of people have them and they make an automated purchases. “I want what they are having”. The counterargument is that Audi have done well on FWD. THe counter-counterargument is that they are masters of perceived quality and design. It is easier to make a RWD car than to learn how Audi make cars the way that they do.

    3. I think it’s not only quality and design. Audi’s rise wouldn’t have been possible with FWD only and was even started by the launch of the Quattro. Now they can stay true to their heritage and still tell the RWD aficionados that they are able to send a large part of the torque to the back. Clever. Add to this the architecture they have started some years ago, with the front axle shifted forward to feign these old-school RWD proportions.

    4. Those are all good points. To me a front-drive Alfa was not sacrelidge because I grew up in an era where front drive was the increasingly prevalent configuration, people who liked cars still raved about the legendary handling of the Alfasud, and I thought the Alfa(sud) Sprint (even in late-era plastic cladding) looked great. I judged Alfa Romeo on what they sold at the time because I didn’t know about what they sold before, so the 164 trumped the ‘ugly’ 75 (yes, I also approved of all those Rover-badged Hondas at the time too.) I suspect a lot of people without AROC memberships or motoring mag subscriptions are like that, which is why I think it was a mistake to not bring out the Giulia that Sergio apparently didn’t like (or couldn’t invest in?) when the 159 was getting a bit long in the tooth. Disappearing from the category for four years and coming back with an M3 alla bolognese (which had better look like that in the low-CO2 repmobile version if they want to sell any company cars in the UK) is one way that the likes of Audi and other emerging brands have a chance to capture your customers in the meantime.

    5. Glad you mention the Alfasud, Mark. I forgot that Alfa already had a front wheel history before the 164.
      The Sud shows that a FWD car can be sporty, light footed and enjoyable. It is a car that is very dear to me, I already liked it as a child, and it is conceptually very close to my beloved GS – but still manages to turn this concept into a quite different character. Interesting.

  8. FCA today announced their continued rebranding of one of its old marques. A spokesman said

    “The new name is for the movers of the 21st Century. It is both enigmatic and aggressive.”

  9. It’s funny the way the 164 keeps coming up in this discussion. In so many ways it trumps the last “real” Alfa, the crudely styled and crudely made 75. Ordinary Opels and Fords were better in every important respect than the 33 and 75. The 164 is still a convincing large saloon and seen side by side is a cut above equivalent Renaults, Fords and Opels. It is comparable to a Five series in build and design and they wear well. But it’s FWD. I say so what. The Series 1 155 dropped the ball but the 145 and 146 were proper Alfas. Ditto the 156 as well. Even late in life the GTV and Spider (the 90s ones) were special cars. I’d say the 147 was a convincing car too. They look excellent and are clearly different from all other vehicles in the class. Things went wrong with the 159 (now retrospectively very handsome) and Brera. Why was the GT ignored? The Giulietta and Mito are over-wrought and not even fun. They deserve to fail. This decade is where Alfa lost its plot, not in 1988 and not because of FWD.

  10. Richard. I fully agree with what you say. I really hope I didn’t convey the impression of heralding RWD, because this would reflect very badly on me as a Citroën fan. I just repeat what I hear (also from people under 40 who couldn’t have driven the 75 when it was new – so there are still potential RWD Alfa customers for the next 20-30 years at least).

  11. Indeed – adding RWD does help AR in the marketing and in winning over hard-core drivers. It was one of the good aspects of the glory days of Alfa. I suppose I am trying to say that it is bonus but not sufficient. Other attributes matter as well and I think we are in broad agreement overall.
    Hasn’t this been a great discussion?

  12. I also enjoyed the discussion, and still do – although it was not really a controversial one, was it?
    Because again, I have to fully agree. RWD is by no means an USP in this class, so it can’t turn a mediocre car into something convincing.

  13. Not at all controversial, no, but there are different slants on this subject. That´s what I liked.
    I might have set too much focus on RWD at some point. Ideally Alfa would have stayed RWD and Lancia could have been FWD. There would have been another way to distinguish the brands once they came under the same ownership. Instead Fiat stripped both of their character and treated them like boxes of soap flakes. Goodness. There are so many good brands ruined by received wisdom: go front drive, shut factories and make them non-branded, go to platform-based model ranges. All of this was only possible trading on the value built up during independence. Factories are communities and getting a Fiat community to make a Lancia or Alfa will not work out until you´ve destroyed the espit de corps that made it a Fiat factory.
    Where is this Alfa to be made? In a Fiat s.p.a. works? Do Alfa have a factory of their own?

  14. I like the new emblem. Looks sharp and modern and will fit well with the look of Alfa’s new cars. The older one did look a bit dated. Alfa offering rear-wheel drive is great. Now they just need to ensure they offer enough manuals and not screw it up like the 4C. The Alfa SUV is going to be the bitter pill, but that pill was already swallowed with Porsche…

  15. Hi Buzzyrpm- some at the Truth About Cars have called the 4C a flop and some say that order books are full for the car. Car magazine have reviewed the revised car and approved. I am agnostic on the topic. What sort of things are the matter with it?
    The SUV seems to be the kind of necessary evil we have to live with, it seems. At least Alfa may avoid another Mito. I hope.

  16. Over the weekend I spoke to a number of ‘car people’ about the Giulia. Most are receptive to the styling, BMW-ised or not. As for the news that it will be RWD, most were intrigued by the prospect. One person made the point that, crucially, RWD signals a clear break with the platform that made the 159 so heavy, both on the scales and in people’s hearts (I’m paraphrasing, of course).

    Of course, the usual reservations came up too. But it would appear that even now, after all these years of crushing, crushing disappointment, an aura of goodwill still surrounds Alfa. Hopefully they won’t cock it up. Again.

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