Here we go again around the carousel
There does appear to be a dispiriting circularity to the fortunes of FCA’s Italian brands of late. So much so in fact, that it’s often difficult to keep up with the merry-go-round’s centrifugal impulse.
Maserati: Sales up, sales down. Now it appears to be Alfa Romeo’s turn on the pinwheel. According to an opinion piece published on Automotive News Europe last week, Alfa’s European six-month sales to June have slumped 42% by comparison with the same period last year.
Piling ignominy upon misfortune was the much-quoted revelation that the Biscione has been outsold by the domestic market-only, seemingly impossible to kill white hen, Lancia delivering 34,693 revenant Ypsilons over the same timescale to Alfa Romeo’s 29,059. Furthermore, Alfa was surpassed during the first half of 2019 by Tesla, Jaguar and Porsche, while serially underperforming Lexus is currently nipping at the Milanese brand’s heels.
Having shipped over 120,000 vehicles globally last year on the back of robust demand in the US and China, North American sales have dropped 26% during the first half of the year and like everyone else, FCA’s Chinese market fortunes are in reverse. Worse still is last month’s European sales figures, with Alfa Romeo’s deliveries dropping 56% in Italy, 66% in France and 70% in Spain. What on earth is happening?
What we know is that Alfa Romeo’s core models in Europe are either very long in the tooth (Giulietta) or have already met their date with the eternal (MiTo). The Giulia on the other hand; arguably the most superficially attractive car in its sector is a fine car according to most assessments, while even if its appearance is not an entirely unqualified success, the Stelvio crossover is at least equally competent, yet neither is performing anywhere close to market projections.
Some might point out Alfa Romeo’s longstanding reputation for mechanical and electronic frailty, but the current models don’t appear to be significantly worse in that area than many. Then there is pricing, with many of the view that the fabled Italian marque has not quite earned the right to charge premium prices for its wares – a matter of debate perhaps.
However, an area of the ownership experience FCA seem either incapable or unwilling to address is that of their dealers. Firstly, try finding one. But of even more significance is the dealership ambience itself, which does seem, despite Alfa’s upmarket pretensions, to be anything but.
Add in a level of service which is consistently criticised, so even if the product was class-leading, the customer experience leaves something to be desired. Because what the numbers tend to underline is that while customers might be tempted to give the Scudetto a punt, they are perhaps less minded to repeat the experience.
There is speculation now, which has been echoed by ANE’s commentator, that within FCA’s new regime under Mike Manley, Alfa Romeo has ceased to be a priority, and with no new product in the pipeline, reputedly until 2021, Alfa’s decline seems unlikely to be arrested anytime soon by the injection of new product. Clearly, Alfa needs the promised Tonale CUV now, not in two year’s time, when it will definitely be too late.
Mr. Manley’s priority appears to lie with mergers and acquisitions so once again the Biscione’s fortunes appear to be in a holding pattern, pending better fortunes. Meanwhile, the situation is not aided by the revolving door of chief executives who arrive, before just as swiftly departing again – the most recent being Tim Kuniskis, who barely warmed his seat before being whisked back to the land of the free. Continuity and consistency, never particular bywords at Arese, certainly wouldn’t hurt, but frankly the only area of consistency one can discern is FCA management’s inconsistency.
Where all of this is going is hard to predict, but it doesn’t require a genius to establish that it doesn’t at all bode well. And while some of us suggested at the time that it would be an upward struggle to re-establish Alfa Romeo in the wake of its enforced hiatus, few could have predicted just how difficult it would prove to be.
Yet here we are once more contemplating another period of suspended animation, pending the next revival phase. How much longer can the agony be prolonged? Has Alfa’s last chance already been squandered or is there a way back from here?