Dreams Made Flesh

“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?

(c) Alfa Romeo Press

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.

(c) auto pasión

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

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

25 thoughts on “Dreams Made Flesh”

  1. The Giulietta is based on a platform that wasn’t competitive when it was new nearly twenty years ago, it’s terminally ugly and sold through a barely existing and mostly dysfunctional dealer network and sales numbers still exceeded 400,000. These numbers are pure miracle.
    Imagine how a good car with attractive looks would sell – or, rather would not because their dealers make sure the products invariably don’t sell, no matter how good they are. The dealers being the real problem is already so for a very long time and it’s well known but ignored because bringing the dealer network up to acceptable standards -let alone the standards set by competitors in this market sector – would cost a lot of money FCA doesn’t have.

    1. Absolutely right. The Giulia is Alfa Romeo’s best car in a generation and there’s still a large well of goodwill towards the marque, yet its sales are dismal. The only credible explanation is that the dealers either don’t understand or cannot deliver the customer experience that is now expected for any car, never mind a ‘premium’ model.

      Is it a question of money or mindset? I suspect it’s as much the latter as the former. Customers would happily forego the ‘cappuccinos and croissants’ if they really felt welcomed and valued from the first moment they stepped into a dealership.

      The best car-related customer experience I ever enjoyed was not at a franchised dealership, but at two independent specialists, one Mercedes-Benz and one Porsche. In both cases they operate out of industrial units with small basic offices with no frills, but I got to speak to the guy doing the work and they never failed to deliver exactly what was promised without fuss or flannel.

      The failure of the Giulia and Stelvio to sell in anything like the numbers required to fund their eventual replacements, never mind other models like a new Giulietta, must mean the prognosis for Alfa Romeo’s continuing existence must now be very poor.

    2. “Is it a question of money or mindset?”

      It’s both, but the problem is that the lack of the former impacts the latter. The factory doesn’t value, substantively invest in or effectively support the dealer network so the good ones have long since decamped to manufacturers where their value is appreciated. Dealers are an investment, but with FCA (and certain other manufacturers) they are actually treated as a liability… well, as the saying goes, keep asserting something and you end up believing it. In fairness it also doesn’t help that FCA’s attitude towards its dealers is stand-offish and combative, which the dealers respond to in kind, with the customer stuck in no-man’s land in the middle. And this is before we get to the plain-and-simple idiocy over the years which has involved various rationalisations that usually end up culling any decent dealers and handing more clout to the useless/malicious ones.

  2. My parents concurrently had a Twin Spark 147 and Giulietta QV for a number of years, and still have the latter. I know the qualities of both fairly well. I thought the 147 was, while imperfect, a very nice car for its era and price. The Giulietta, by contrast, has always struck me as a ‘blah’ kind of car. Good points are the 1750 turbomotor and, actually, the (manual) drivetrain in general – it performs well and there are no significant horror stories that have emerged around it. The ride is also excellent, not just for a sporty version, but on its own merits – it’s a very comfortable car to take over a long distance. Less good things are the exterior styling, steering (artificial and lacking in feel) and interior quality, which in important ways like major mouldings and trim pieces feels inferior to the 147. I also thought the quality of the upholstery on the earlier car was superior. The Giulietta is certainly a more robust structure to attach bits to but the cheapness of the interior materials – better than the Delta’s, but worse than any relevant rival – really is noticeable, and annoying.

    1. You´ve put your finger on something about the Giulietta compared to the 147. The 147 looked like a well-made car, in side and out. It also still looks completely credbible as a design. I don´t think it has aged a day since it appeared. The Giulietta is a nice enough vehicle but is tinselly in comparison with it´s predecessor. I have not warmed to it though if was in the market I´d see how it compared to the Astra and Focus before making a final decision.
      My guess is that Alfa´s stuffed. If they can´t sell a decenet car like the Giulia or a popular, on-trend format like the Stelvio they don´t stand a chance. Compare them to Ford and Opel whose cars are always at least nice and useful and reliable – if they struggle, what hope Alfa?

    2. I tend to feel that Alfa’s last chance was the 156/147. The designs and fundamentals were basically right but the reliability wasn’t good enough, the dealers weren’t good enough and the company didn’t move quickly or effectively enough to address the issues that came up. The fact the replacements for the 156 and 147 were late and missed the mark certainly didn’t help, but I think by that stage the die was cast anyway. Alfa had a rapidly-closing window in the late 1990s to bridge the difference from where it was in the market to where it needed to be – from a novel Ford/Renault/Peugeot alternative to a serious alternative-consideration BMW. This needed to be considered a multi-decade project and the 156/147 really needed to be for Alfa what the first A4 was for Audi – something that really hit the market bullseye with no fatal flaws and provided a solid basis for ongoing growth. The opportunity was – briefly – there for that to occur, but as we know, it didn’t happen. Now, that window has disappeared and I don’t believe it will ever return for Alfa.

    3. I absolutely agree with your opinion regarding the chance the 147/156 offered. Of the 147/156/166 trio the 147 was by far the one with the best interior with the least number of quality glitches and the same wonderful Momo/Poltrona leather as on the bigger cars.
      The 156 wasn’t generally unreliable but it had a troubled start in life because it was launched prematurely and therefore a limited number of partially fatal gremlins had to be sorted out. Fiat/Alfa duly ironed out the faults, something Alfa traditionally didn’t because of lack of funds, but their dealers more often than not couldn’t be bothered with delivering the goods to their customers.
      The 156 was a conceptionally good car and was taken dead serious by its competitors as could be told by the way BMW bullied lease companies who dared to offer fleet lease contracts for 156s. They needn’t have worried because Alfa’s dealers made sure the initial sales success of the 156 was but a flash in the pan.

    4. I’ve never looked closely at the Giulietta but a friend of mine had a 147 and it was a likeable car and a more interesting alternative to the mainstream C-segment hatchbacks. The interior looked smart and was comfortable to travel in. It seemed pretty robust and reliable over the four years he owned it. The only odd failure was that both external front door handles “came off in his hand”. No, he’s not ham-fisted or heavy-handed!

  3. I think you’ll also find that for most all the years it was sold (perhaps not 2011 as you noted) that the VW Golf outsold the Giulietta in Italy. The few times I had had the sales numbers sent to me by a friend over the years, this was always the case. Now if the Italians didn’t even buy it, it really had little hope of succeeding anywhere else.

  4. Was the Giulietta the Alfa I’d buy? No.
    Was the Giulietta the Alfa I’d have? Yes.
    Alfa historians in general prefer a strange concept that the brand has been suffering under Fiat’s reign and was in dire need of more refined engineering basis, because – for some never discussed reason – it must be a premium segment competitor. Mr. Macchione seemed to have the same idea on his mind and – while I’m in awe of his love-child called Giulia -I don’t think it’s working.
    On the positive side Giulietta’s now sell with a HUGE discount, basically Fiat Tipo prices with the good old 1.4 T-JET engine or the 1.6 diesel. That’s a steal if you believe in the “buy only from the last model year” wisdom. It’s not a quality product if someone associates ‘quality’ with soft-touch plastic, frivolous extras and cool gadgets, but it’s ‘quality’ in terms of build-refinement, reliability simplicity. Much like an Italian Škoda. Over the years the Cassino plant saw huge upgrades to suit the tight fittings of the Giulia, and the Giulietta also benefited. It would be interesting to compare a 2010 model year Giulietta with a 2020 one. It deserves a mention that it became a very decent car by the end of it’s life.

    1. After the takeover Fiat invested huge sums of money into Alfa. They heavily and expensively redesigned the Tipo platform to enable it to use the boxer engines in Alfas 145/146 only to revert to inline engines because the boxers were the wrong engines for such heavy cars. Fiat also introduced the concept of improving existing models, something Alfa rarely or never had done before. Fiat used the 155 as a showcase for their technically leading development abilities, particularly in rapid prototyping to create innumerable iterations and slowly developing the rather underwhelming 155 into a decent car at the rest of its life. The 916s were expensive halo cars – all to resurrect Alfa’s credibility and create a basis for the 156’s hoped for sales success.
      The 156 took off to a fulminant start with very good sales and it was taken dead serious by its German competitors – if you want to know where your place in the market is ask your supposed or perceived competitors. None other than Ferdinand Piech stated that after producing crap for decades Alfa needed only one good car (156) to fully recover.
      If this doesn’t make Alfa the premium brand it had been historically than I don’t know.
      It all went pear shaped when 156 sales collapsed. Most people blame the disastrous NCAP test video but in truth the 156 was killed much earlier when fleet managers prematurely cancelled the fleet lease contracts because they were fed up with dealers’ lack of service. Customer expectations regarding dealer service and quality of work have moved on to challenging levels not least thanks to Toyota’s efforts over time and Fiat cum Alfa completely missed the boat in this regard. If you compare the well oiled, efficient and professional service Audi makes sure their dealers deliver to the utter recalcitrance and complete ignorance of Alfa dealers in the service department you know why people don’t choose Alfas. Combined with sub-standard products like the 939 series (159), Giulietta and MiTo (modern Alfa’s darkest hour, better made but conceptionally worse than the Arna) that’s not a recipe for sales success. The Giulia isn’t just the best Alfa for twenty years it’s a very good car as such but it’s sold through a dealer network that surely would manage to even kill the VW Golf at the sales (and, above all, service) front.

    2. Well, Herr Piech has been wrong about many things ranging from PD diesel injection to the Phaeton, so I may question him on that, especially knowing that he wanted to buyout the company to merge it into the VW empire.
      A premium car meant wholly different things in historical times than it is today. Alfa indeed used to be a premium manufacturer, but it shouldn’t necessarily be the premium manufacturer of the 21st century. That’s not what the philosophy of the brand is about. It’s sportiness is misunderstood by many, just like Lancia’s flair was misunderstood. One thing is sure: relying on one model family is key to failure either way, so the likes of the MiTo or Giulietta is definitely a must.
      I can see and agree that the FCA dealership network is the probably the worst out there, but JLR isn’t doing wonders either, so I don’t think that customer service is the main issue.

  5. A late friend of mine had abysmal treatment at the AR dealership. He bought a brand new 2011 plate Giulietta from a most reluctant salesman who he told me “seemed bored by the whole process of selling.” Engine wise no problems but the others kept on rolling in; scuffed trim, loose and broken trim, door handle problems, service maladies as in car booked in but no clue from service department but the final nail in the coffin being the bonnet release. The cable snapped as my friend attempted to put some screen wash in. Not covered by warranty, weeks turned into months for part and a completely indifferent air from the dealer. Part eventually arrived and cost him something like £300 to fit. The Italian was swiftly chopped in for a German at something like 18 months into payment, causing a large financial loss. But he had had enough. He like the car a lot – just terrible dealership shenanigans

    On the good side, those rear lights at night are wonderful to watch drive away into the darkness. Alfa’s had it.

    1. Rest assured that abysmal teatment at AR dealers comes as standard at no extra cost.
      I’ve one through experiences you wouldn’t expect from backyard kit car manufacturers and which are simply unacceptable, no matter what the name of the manufacturer or what the market segment is.
      After several years of permanent disservice by the workshop team of the importer’s HQ dealership I went away from Alfa after more than twenty-five years. And I’m pretty sure I will not come back.
      Every time I talk to Alfa owners about their experiences with dealer service I know I’m right.

  6. If the Giulietta is really on the off-ramp, Alfa will have once again been faithful to that clause of The Fiat Charter about abandonment of a substantial market sector just because you can’t be bothered to replace a product that’s selling in reasonable numbers. Refer 159, Punto, and numerous others.

    There was a near-five year gap between the last 159 and the Giulia going on sale. There will be at least two years between the last Giulietta and the Toenail, unless Carlos T prevails and decides it should sit on an EMP2 platform, rather than the intended evolution of the 2005 Corsa / Punto chassis. Which may be no bad thing.

    I can’t imagine Tavares turning out the nightlight on under-performing Alfa, but he’s likely to be canny with the ingredients.

    Could he ‘do a Corsa’ with a 308-based Guilietta replacement built wherever there’s spare capacity? That sort of thing worked well for VAG in the ’90s, but Carlos T strikes me as being more like Len Lord than Ferdinand Piëch.

    1. Well observed Robertas. I would agree that Mr Tavares will at least try to do something with AR, but yes, he is likely to employ what is to hand rather than expensively draw up new platforms. I would be rather surprised if Tonale is not placed on EMP2 – it would potentially fast-track it to some extent and of course, there are cost implications which could work in his favour. Time is the enemy however, I expect.

      You mention ‘spare capacity’. This will be something Mr T is likely have little shortage of – in Italy and I expect, Blighty before long, to say nothing of anywhere else. Not that I can readily envisage Alfa Romeos being churned out of Ellesmere Port, but stranger things can happen at sea, allegedly.

      One intriguing aspect of the likely merger, is Tavares’ assertion that no marques will be culled as a result. What this means for the White Hen of Tychy remains unclear, but the numbers don’t lie, do they? Speaking of numbers by the way, DS Auto outsold Alfa Romeo last year, which really ought to concentrate minds.

  7. There seems to be a consensus around here that bad dealers are a big reason a good brand can be killed. It is known that Lexus win customers through their customer treatment. Does anyone want to hazard a guess why Alfa Romeo consistently entrusted their cars to dealers unable to handle the products or the customers?

  8. suppose that the competitors of the alfa are BMW and AUDI, for a few K euros more I throw myself on the German car, I personally did not like the Giulietta, horrible rear lights, bad quality of the interior. No chance against an A3 Audi unless I buy it at the price of a ford Focus (but then where does the premium end). The only hope is that tavares will abandon the DS project and use a brand from the FCA galaxy to churn out premium products.

    Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)

    1. Which brand would you suggest? The “C” brands are either busy or toast (Plymouth, anyone?). And the “F” brands are all asphyxiating: Lancia, Alfa, Fiat. It´s a roost of runts now, sad to say. And yet these very pages and their predecessor at The Other Place have discussed this almost a whole model cycle ago (or maybe 1.5 model cycles ago). I think it was maybe 2010 when the Fiat/Lancia/Alfa brand hierarchy was discussed by Eoin and I. Alfa has struggled with charging prices above Ford and offering quality worse than average.

    2. Alfa really could help the PSA side of the conglomerate enter the market segment they failed to conquer with their DS products because it’s their only brand that’s still alive and could justify high margin prices if the products are right.
      But here it’s difficult to see how PSA’s influence would be good for Alfa.
      They have nothing in the engineering department that would improve on what is already available to Alfa. I can’t see how a Giulia successor could be derived from any of PSA’s products or which PSA model could be the base for a new Giulietta that urgently would have to be more 147-like for credibility.
      That would make any Alfa (and possible Lancia) a standalone product that never would be profitable. And that’s before considering that most probably PSA never would tolerate an FCA product at the top of their combined model range.

      In addition PSA’s product quality also isn’t up to the required standards and their dealers aren’t that much better than FCA’s own. Alfa would be trapped in the same hole as it is now.

    3. we only talk about the use of brands in Europe, which is the market I live in. If I were Tavares, Citroen = Skoda, Fiat = Seat, Peugeot = VW, AlfaRomeo = Audi, Maserati = Porsche.
      I would forget the DS brand and the Lancia brand.
      Plus there´s always the Jeep brand.
      Abarth is just tuning.
      It´s clear that the technical skills of the VW group are lacking.

    4. The plan laid out by Marco seems logical. However, Tavares stated somewhere that he would like to keep all current brands running, meaning that a “Dacia” (super low-end) tier could be added for Opel. DS may be kept for “bespoke” vehicles – sort of a Rolls Royce, just converted from a Citroen.
      I think it would be reasonable to resurrect the Delta on the next-gen 308 (309?) basis and bring on a new Ypsilon generation – those were recent Lancia brand names that justified their existence.
      On the long run – who knows, the common engineering basis will get developed under 5-10 years, so they have time to mull over these decisions. Maybe in a blink of an eye new market prospects may show up like the current SUV-mania or the once glorious cabriolet-craze and one or another brand’s legacy may be more appealing to customers. But it is clear that their focus should be on global, mainly US expansion. With sales falling, our small continent can’t support yet another automotive giant forever and they must find out how to rely on the Chrysler part of the empire (which Fiat didn’t really exploited).

    5. Look at how badly Peugeot managed the brands they already acquired in the past.
      They ruined Citroen for no other reason than that Peugeot would not tolerate a brand they acquired at a higher rung of the hierarchy – a very French management attitude.

      Therefore I seriously doubt that Peugeot will tolerate anything at the top of the pyramid that is not carrying the Lion logo.
      The following hierarchy looks a lot more probable for me:
      Peugeot = Audi, Citroen = Skoda, Alfa = Seat, Opel/Fiat = Dacia, DS = VW –
      a wasted opportunity.

  9. I forgot that there is also the brand Opel, (what fun it would be for us readers to manage all these brands). The Peugeot family really wants the lion at the top of the pyramid while the Agnelli family put the CASH on it.
    I´d like to know the cost of developing a new model on the same base, Corsa 208 and c3 are the same car, what costs this situation instead of having only one “ford fiesta”?
    Up to the C segment I would use almost all brands, a bit of fantasy on the streets. Fiat Alfa Peugeot Citroen Opel, 5, against the 4 VAG, Seat VW Audi Skoda.

    1. You could avoid some overlap by keeping some brands out all markets. Opel is in a tough situation as it is directly competing with Peugeot. And Lancia is still worth hanging onto – brands don´t always need a 12 model range.

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