Theme: Rivals – The Serpent and the Cat

Alfa Giulia is available to own and steeling to give Gaydon’s finest a lash of its tongue. We look at how it’s faring against its sternest rival.

Image: caradvice.com.au

Wouldn’t it be interesting to spend a day around FCA towers? If only to truly discern the degree of reality evinced by the likes of Big Reidland et al. Because even the big fella must now realise the German trio of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz are conclusively beyond reach. Last year, luxury sector leader, Mercedes-Benz shipped 176,038 C-Class badged vehicles to waiting customers across the European market alone. What hope for Alfa Romeo’s ambitions against those kind of numbers?

Foraging for scraps is as good as it’s going to get, which is dispiriting enough were it not for another awkward truth. There’s more than one also-ran in the snake pit; namely JLR and their stuttering Jaguar-branded offerings and the UK carmaker is as, if not more determined to hoover up any residual customers unswayed by the German (and increasingly Swedish) hegemony. So today I ask, in a compact luxury saloon death-match, who do we fancy: serpent or kitty?

Let’s look at some numbers. Over the January-December period last year, JLR shifted 24,461 XE’s, a far from laudatory performance. Owing to the glacial pace of the Giulia introduction, deliveries of Alfa Romeo’s new saloon only got going in March 2016, meaning the year-end figure of 10,475 falls somewhat short of what could likely have been achieved. Still, even with a full year’s production, it’s unlikely to have outstripped the now firmly established Midlands 3-Series. But let’s try to be impartial. Giulia production is still spooling up, with FCA just last month introducing two additional engine derivations for both petrol and diesel versions.

Image: automobilemag.com

And as for this year? Of the two, it’s Alfa Romeo who have hit the ground running it appears; FCA delivering 3,899 Giulia’s to giddy European customers over the first two months of 2017. Meanwhile, over the same period, 2,757 XE’s found homes. These are paltry numbers and the fact that Mercedes-Benz shifted 26,044 C-Class’ models over the same period puts matters into suitably sharp relief, but in percentage terms it’s first (if far from conclusive) blood for the serpent, leaving the Coventry cat licking its paws.

What’s happening do we think? On one hand, the Giulia is fresh, looks attractive, both externally and (crucially) internally and is broadly competitive, at least on paper with JLR’s current offering. In addition, mainstream versions are available in both petrol and diesel form. As of now, the only petrol engined XE available to order is the low-volume 3.0 litre V6 performance model. Later this year, a 2.0 litre petrol unit from the ‘ingenium’ programme will become available, but not until the Autumn at the earliest. With European buyers facing increasing uncertainty over diesel’s future, not being able to offer customers a choice is a handicap.

Another possible factor is brand-Jaguar’s lack of pan-European appeal. Of the pair, Alfa Romeo is the better known and arguably more trusted nameplate. Say what you will about Alfa Romeo’s latter-day reputation, (and it’s not as catastrophic as some might suggest) it isn’t difficult to imagine mainland European customers choosing the devil they know. Now I’m not going to deny the likelihood of the JLR product being the better ownership proposition of the pair, but in terms of pure showroom appeal, the Giulia (to this scribe’s eyes at least) conclusively has the XE’s measure.

Fight, fight, fight! Image: autovisie.nl

Despite my well documented ambivalence towards the JLR product, I fully expect XE to see out 2017 ahead. One thing we can safely assume is that despite FCA getting off the blocks quite smartly, it quickly runs out of steam. We’ve seen this happen with Maserati and I’ll confidently suggest Alfa will furrow a similar row. In JLR’s favour, their management is smart and will learn from the mis-steps they have made with their Jaguar-branded saloon offerings. Meanwhile, potential catastrophe dogs FCA’s every waking hour, a matter which may well and perhaps should give potential Alfa Romeo customers pause.

But all of this is for another time. In the meantime, let us sit back and enjoy the unedifying spectacle of these two slugging it out, like a pair of drunks fighting over a packet of crisps.

European sales data: carsalesbase.com

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

5 thoughts on “Theme: Rivals – The Serpent and the Cat”

  1. The announcement of the Giulia was only ever going to affect one company: Jaguar. There are only so many buyers out there for an European, driver focussed, potentially flaky saloon. That the Alfa is so much more emotive inside and out makes selling the virtues of the sterile XE even tougher. In Jaguar’s favour, the press are already pumping out horror stories about the Giulia’s build and reliability. No doubt the first flurry of Alfa orders will very quickly trend downwards, but these are all potential sales that Jaguar has lost.

    In the meantime, the market for saloon also-rans is saturated. Mainstream players push up market whilst prestige marques push down. Volvo, not an immediate cross shop for either marque but in the same ballpark, continues to plough its own furrow very diligently. Cadillac is becoming more driver focussed. Lexus has launched a series of eye-catching (if not exactly handsome) cars. Acuras are dull but reliable. Buick and Infiniti exist. One has to wonder how long any or all of these players can persist when buyers are at best indifferent to their efforts.

    1. The lesson is the that of the Tagora: don´t enter a market later with anything less than a cure for cancer and male pattern baldness. Leaving any reliability news to one side, there is nothing about either of these two cars that means they deserve to sell in such small numbers. Buyers are evidently not as fickle as they are thought to be. A buyer of a BMW 320 is not a free-spirit ready to consider anything in that range. No, they are probably as committed to that car as they are to their local church and whoever they vote for. Customers are leaving the small saloon class and those that remain are married to their brand.

  2. And, of course, there are the company buyers. Business Car magazine lands on my desk and in my Inbox every two weeks. Its conclusion on the Giulia 2.2 180 diesel “likeable and desirable as the stylish new Giulia is, it’s be a brave fleet manager that would be willing to let you have one over the opposition”.

    I do have some sympathy with cautious fleet managers. In a previous life I worked at an educational institution at the time that domestic video recorders became available (younger readers please revert to Wikipedia for arcane terminology). Having looked at the options in depth, my conclusion was that the Betamax system was better than the VHS system, so that is what I bought. The fact that I was actually right about the quality was of little consequence to the college staff lumbered with the ‘loser’ system. Fortunately I’d moved on by then, but my ears still burned.

  3. This may appear like some hopeless Jaguar apologist’s babble, but I actually disagree when it comes to the assessment of both cars’ visual appeal.

    Yes, the XE is too sombre, with surprisingly blunt detailing and an inexcusable cabin ambience. But the Alfa is only really more appealing when correctly specced (i.e. not in black, but with chrome DLO surround) -’cause the examples I’ve seen that weren’t, which is the majority, looked like a rejected Skoda proposal from the rear and like a five-year-old-Hyundai with unexpectedly RWD-like proportions in profile.

    In terms of proportions, both cars are actually rather good – as good, or even better than the German competition. But both are badly let down by their detailing.

    The one area where the Alfa scores an unchallenged victory is the interior though. Having only seen photos of it, I’m convinced the quality of its materials can’t be so bad as to be inferior to the Jag’s. And in terms of sheer flair, the Italian car wins hands down.

    1. A search for Alfa Romeo dealers showed that there are none in Denmark’s second city. I have to drive an hour to get to the “local” purveyor. Dealer networks matter if you want to sell anything. Sam the Eagle made this point ages ago – I am merely repeating. Alfa’s and Jaguar’s small sales figures (8 pt) reflect the density of the dealer net as much as the car’s shortcoming.

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