Suspension – (Of Disbelief)

Our editor will be cross with me for appropriating this month’s theme in such an arbitrary manner, but the title did rather suggest itself.

A good decade late to market. Alfa Romeo's Kamal concept. Image:digitaltrends
Alfa Romeo’s 2003 Kamal concept – 13 years later we’ll finally see a production version. Image:digitaltrends

Last year Alfa Romeo revealed the Giulia berlina well before it was ready, allowing damaging rumours of engineering issues and rushed development to take hold. FCA management launched the Giulia early to reassure potential investors of the robustness of Alfa Romeo’s expansion plans and to strengthen their negotiating hand in talks with General Motors. So while the reasons for its botched launch are understandable, I’m sure it’s one Marchionne regrets, given the ensuing damage to both his own and Alfa Romeo’s credibility. 

With this in mind, the announcement this week that Alfa Romeo will reveal its forthcoming crossover in late Autumn caused some incredulity round these parts. Set to be to Alfa what the F-Pace is likely to be for Jaguar, the Stelvio (as it is set to be named) will sit on a modified Giulia platform and component set, Alfa Romeo chief executive, Harald Wester confirmed to journalists. This could mean a Paris reveal, or as most news outlets are suggesting, Los Angeles. Of course if Alfa Romeo’s business prospects were to be best served, this model would have preceded the Giulia, but for FCA, the decision to re-establish Alfa Romeo with a sports saloon was an emotional one aimed at securing the marque’s enthusiast fanbase before stretching credulity further.

But not so fast Mr. Wester. Recent reports of FCA chief, Sergio Marchionne turning his amorous attentions to Apple’s Tim Cook, might lead the more cynical to view this announcement as yet another plot-twist in the Marchionne gameplan. Surely the bejumpered one wouldn’t try the same ploy twice, would he? Certainly, given the Stelvio’s engineering and production basis, the production timescale is attainable – if ambitious, but only if we ignore Alfa’s track record on model introductions.

Alfa Romeo is surely too important for FCA’s future prospects to be playing fast and loose with its reputation. Because another mangled launch could tip the balance of doubt firmly against the automotive world’s knitwear enthusiast-in-chief.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

6 thoughts on “Suspension – (Of Disbelief)”

  1. Some more rumors:
    – Apparently the delay of the Giulia was caused by the Stelvio. The goal was to use the same crash structure on both cars. Apparently there was a problem with the infamous USA ‘small overlap test’. Some engineering had to be done in order to pass the test with the same structure on both vehicles.
    – Some say that the crash test story was leaked by a supplier who missed a deadline and was contractually forced to pay a hefty sum to FCA. During the delay, the Giulia was spied more than often in Germany – even with German plates. Had Bosch, Continental, or some other supplier a problem, who will say?
    – Negative press, meet your new victim: the Alfieri. Delayed or cancelled? FCA is not publishing product plans any more (read: Marchionne is not looking for investors). It’s not unimaginable that we might see a Gran Turismo successor before the Alfieri.
    – To end with: isn’t it more likely that Apple will go for a deal with Ford/GM instead of FCA? I’m not sure that FCA even wants to produce the Apple car: in a year or two all American factories will be making Jeeps. And I don’t believe that Apple will have its car produced in Italy.

    1. Thanks for the comment. Certainly it would be germane to share as much componentry as possible between both vehicles – one of the reasons crossovers have proven so popular with manufacturers is the relative simplicity and low costs in spinning them off existing hardware. Unfortunately, the rumours surrounding the delay may have tainted the Giulia’s reception, but having said that, I do think it looks a sight more attractive with the warpaint and gargoyles removed. Of course the stern test is yet to come.

      Alfieri? I’m not heartbroken. Chances are the next Gran Turismo will appropriate its lines anyway.

      Apple? Absolutely no way they’ll climb into bed with FCA. Post-UNLEARN, I’d run a nautical mile from Ford as well. To be honest, I’m more inclined to envisage Apple trying to go it alone. And while I’m sure Sergio doesn’t open his gob for no good reason, it does sometimes come across as some form of tourettes. I do wish he’d just zip it for a while.

  2. I agree that it’s highly unlikely Apple will go with FCA or another company selling its own range of cars (one Apple commentator’s reaction was ‘Fiat ROKR’, recalling Apple’s pre-iPhone collaboration with Motorola) I think it more likely that Apple would be looking to a contract manufacturer with automotive experience like Magna to run a production line to Apple’s specifications, as they do now with Foxconn for consumer electronics manufacture.

    I’ve been wondering whether these delays on the Giulia coming to market really do matter outside the bubble of car-obsessives, the press that serves them and the pundits that serve the press. The general public doesn’t pay attention to this stuff as closely as we are. The people who buy new sports sedans or ‘junior exec cars’ don’t read all the motoring mags either. If the average 320d Boy Racer Alloys or A4 TDi Concrete Dampers buyer likes how the Giulia looks and what the ads say it says about them, gets a good lease deal with a solid warranty and the dealers offer good service then Alfa Romeo will be in with a shot, whenever the car turns up.

  3. Interesting. In North America, where FCA makes enough money flogging hundreds of thousands of RAM pickups and Jeeps to fund the entire rest of the worldwide Sergio one-man empire, every FCA vehicle is at the bottom of the reliability charts. My hi-fi pal is the warranty manager at a local Chrysler RAM Dodge Fiat dealer, and has been for years. The dealer is part of an Automotive group that sells every make except Mercedes, Toyota and BMW – 22 separate dealers, Audi Porsche Hyundai Subaru Kia Ford GM Volvo VW Mazda Nissan Jaguar Land Rover and obviously FCA. FCA is comfortably last in the warranty arena and he’s a busy man, says things are no better now than years ago, especially the leaky Jeep Wrangler removable top, a decades old problem attributable to old Chrysler but never fixed. Complains he could do the Subie dealer’s warranty job on 3 hours a day with coffee breaks and lunch time at the tavern included. He drives a Hyundai himself.

    If one reads various websites and the occasional ex-Chrysler engineer piping up, the Italian mob are so far behind on industry quality assurance techniques it’s not funny. Fiat did not update in the later 1990s like the entire rest of the industry in response to Toyota’ methods. No, they knew better. And they lord it over the US engineers working for them, claiming they know best. The Dodge Dart, only 4 years old and the Chrysler 200, only two years on the market and both based on old Guilia underpinnings stretched a bit are highly overweight and Sergio announced they would be cancelled. They just do not sell.

    On the rumour front, one is that FCA goes direct from CAD/CAM to production model without much prototype testing compared to other firms. Who knows? The other is that Sergio changes his mind so often that some suppliers making prototype parts for models he comes up with and then cancels, and who fund the work themselves based on future sales expectations, have told Chrysler to take a hike recently, and make up their darn minds. This contradicts the other rumour of course.

    Nevertheless production quality is an ongoing problem.

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