“The stuff of which dreams are made”, said the advertising copy in 2010. Ten years on, is the dream over for Alfa Romeo’s Giulietta?
Some matters in life are immutable. The changing of the seasons, Elon Musk’s twitter-happy thumbs, General Motors in retrenchment, Alfa Romeo in crisis. Because in an automotive landscape where virtually every once-certain nostrum seems on the cusp of being upended, the embattled Italian heritage brand nowadays appears an almost reassuring presence as it continues to tear at its own hem.
Certainly, that time-worn cliché suggesting that the darkest hour is just before dawn holds little succour for the Biscione of Milan, given that for Alfa Romeo, dawns have been about as frequent as they have been false. But even taking all this into account, the screw appears to be taking a further turn.
Last week, a number of news outlets reported that having already seriously scaled back production of the Giulietta hatchback at FCA’s Cassino plant, the decision has been taken to cease production entirely, with unconfirmed reports suggesting as early as this Spring. The rationale being to refit the factory in advance of a forthcoming Maserati-badged, sub-Levante crossover which is to be built there.
Having been the mainstay of Alfa Romeo sales since its introduction in 2010, Giulietta sales have been in sharp decline. Last year, only 15,690 were sold. Cynics amongst you might be minded to observe that such figures are hardly disastrous by contemporary FCA measures, nor that it is unusual for an FCA product to live in the marketplace well past its best-before date.
The Giulietta debuted at the 2010 Geneva motor show, and was conceived to be built both in Italy and the US. At the time, Fiat Chrysler’s CEO had envisaged offering an entire Alfa Romeo lineup in America to be sold through the Chrysler network – a plan, like so many of former FCA supremo, Sergio Marchionne’s brainchildren that was announced with a flourish before being quietly stuffed in a sack and flung into the Gari.
Or not. Marchionne’s idea of abandonment, it seemed amounting to the development of the short-lived and seemingly unloved US-market Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200 models, which employed modified versions of the Giulietta’s platform, quickly denounced by the Angora-loving auto-mogul as expensive mistakes, before being stuffed in sacks and flung into the Clinton.
This shared platform is believed to have been a considerably re-engineered version of that which underpinned both contemporary Fiat Bravo and Lancia Delta models (itself derived from the previous Stilo model), albeit without the Alfa’s more sophisticated multilink rear suspension.
The Giulietta’s exterior design was also Fiat-sourced, emerging from centro stile under the supervision of Lorenzo Ramaciotti and like the MiTo which preceded it, followed a design ethos which drew inspiration from that of the 8C Competitione of 2007. So while Giulietta was not wholly unattractive, it was, ungainly nose treatment aside, somewhat tentative, even by 2010 standards.
Nevertheless, it did sell in reasonable numbers, its best year however being 2011, when over 70,000 were sold. In all, excluding the likely modest sales from 2020, 417,922 Giuliettas in total have found homes over an almost ten year period. Not brilliant, but not awful either, since it represents volume the current Giulia/ Stelvio would kill for.
Naturally by now, or at least around now, the Giulietta’s replacement ought to have been readied. After all, both Marchionne and an assortment of former Alfa Romeo chiefs (take your pick) lost no time informing customers what mugs they had been for signing on the dotted line at their friendly Alfa dealer. It’s odd, almost two years since Sergio made his untimely rendezvous with the eternal, we really are no wiser as to whether he actually was in possession of a strategy or simply making it all up on the hoof.
The next generation Guilietta was to have switched to a version of the Giulia’s rear-wheel drive Giorgio platform, the intention, one imagines, being to move all Alfa Romeos away from the taint of their former Fiat parentage. However, like just about every other aspect of the FCA product plan, this was abruptly terminated, with former deputy and current CEO, Mike Manley starting to inject a dose of fatality (and further stuffed sacks) into the carmaker’s forward plans.
As matters stand, assuming Giulietta does indeed shuffle off to meet its Marchionne this year, there are no known plans for a direct replacement. According to the noises from Turin, the only product actions of note will involve the forthcoming Tonale CUV, allegedly due next year, and a smaller B-segment crossover, allegedly to arrive around 2022. What Alfa Romeo dealers are expected to sell in the interim is anyone’s guess – would madam like to view this lovely Jeep Cherokee we have over here perhaps?
Yet it was the Giulietta which was to all intents and purposes keeping the lights on for the Biscione. With sales of both Giulia saloon and Stelvio crossover having, in time-honoured FCA fashion started well, then hit the buffers, axing the C-segment offering risks losing them not only the lion’s share of their current volume, but also a place in the sector, and as we all know and understand, once those customers go astray, few will return.
Of course, some might argue that FCA are correct to move Alfa away from the C-segment, that they simply need to get with the CUV trend and with the push to electrification. But it isn’t simply a matter of more attractive products or stronger marketing. It’s not even a biased motoring press, as some apologists suggest.
No, the problem which FCA in all its myriad forms has consistently and systematically failed recognise is its chronic inability to satisfy its customers. Because if you fail to satisfy your customers, you really cannot blame them for shopping elsewhere.
We began by considering Alfa Romeo’s perennial state of crisis. However, no matter what rationale one posits for the repeated failures of successive managements to right the good ship Arese, it is almost out of options. Because unless matters change rather dramatically, it isn’t wildly outlandish to suggest that in five years time, the brand ends up as an equally half-dead offering alongside the revenant white hen of Tychy.
With PSA’s Carlos Tavares at the helm, Alfa Romeo stand their last chance at reinvention. Who would care to try should this attempt fail?
Sales data from carsalesbase.com