The Serpent’s Egg

One more spin on the carousel.

In a few weeks time, Alfa Romeo will reveal to the world a car which will unite the massed ranks of automotive press in labelling it ‘make or break‘. Like Alfa Romeo’s reincarnation plans over the years, the tally of make or break Alfa Romeos has been depressingly numerous, but what unites them is a single stark characteristic: none has delivered upon its promise. The latest of these dates from 2015, when the current Giulia was announced, but given that crushing disappointment is a feeling all too familiar to those who admire the Milanese car brand and wish it success, the betting appears to be only for the brave.

Because, by the looks of things, the Giulia is on the ropes. Now, as we all know, saloons of all stripes are in retreat[1], even those of a more specialised, rear-wheel drive, sporting bent. Customers, we are reliably informed no longer equate these low-slung three-volume shapes with their aspirations, which are (as aspirations generally are) for something more elevated – in this case rather literally.

In 2017, we examined the prospects of the Giulia, viewed against its natural and most bitterly contested rival, Jaguar’s XE. Both had been conceived at great expense, developed from the ground up to offer a no-compromise alternative to sector-defining rivals from Milbertshoven, Ingolstadt and Sindelfingen.

Some five years later, the situation hasn’t altered greatly, in that the segment remains dominated by the German trio – all in new or updated form – with both Alfa Romeo and Jaguar collectively licking their wounds from a bruising series of encounters with harsh commercial reality. Also changed is the composition of the sector; now somewhat smaller owing to the withdrawal of both Infiniti and Lexus from the European equation[2].

Having recently examined the (hardly edifying) prospects of brand-Jaguar as we enter 2022, this week we turn our attentions to the Biscione of Milan, and specifically, the Cassino-built Giulia.

Given that Alfa Romeo did so much to establish the market for the close-coupled sports saloon with the original 101-series Giulietta and 105-series Giulia models, it seems grimly ironic they have been reduced to hanging by their fingernails now. Absence of course has never been a recipe for success, and certainly Sergio Marchionne’s prevarication over the composition of the eventual Giulia model left a gaping hole where a viable Alfa Romeo offering should have been for several commercially significant years following the premature withdrawal from sale of the 159 model.

Getting it right was the Marchionne rationale at the time, the line being that a succession of front-driven offerings diluted the Alfa bloodline and only a technically pure, rear-drive car would dampen the burning sense of betrayal felt by Alfisti everywhere from Melbourne to Melfi. A rationale which was eerily similar to that espoused by JLR management when the X760 (XE) was being scoped, with traumatised Jaguar executives recalling its X-Type predecessor from behind the sofa.[2]

It would seem that not only did senior management in both the UK and Italy draw similar conclusions to begin with, both carmakers subsequently faced similar levels of buyer ambivalence once their carefully curated creations came to market. A fundamental error on both sides being the assumption that an overwhelming emphasis on class-leading dynamics would provide the reputational cut-through required – somewhat naive when opposition offerings were so crushingly complete.

On paper, the Giulia had and continues to have much going for it. An excellent chassis (as well it should), an attractive cabin and some decent engines (petrol versions specifically). Furthermore, the Andrea Loi credited 952-series remains by some margin the most attractive looking of its segment, knocking the German trio into the proverbial cocked hat on aesthetics at least[3]. Not that this means the Giulia is anybody’s design classic, merely that so low is the bar nowadays that all it takes is a relatively calm, decently proportioned and relatively coherent body style to take class honours by a broad margin.

2021 Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce.

But along with its equally embattled Midlands English rival, Giulia lacks the wide powertrain choice offered by the Teutonic trio, not to mention the choice of additional body styles; both Alfa Romeo and Jaguar assuming that spin-off CUV offerings (Stelvio and F-Pace) would cater to those requiring versatility or load-lugging capabilities. Both have suffered for this lapse – in European markets at least, where estate cars continue to matter.

Arriving on European markets a good year after the Jaguar, did not necessarily hamper the Giulia, which has managed to come close to equalling the total deliveries accrued by the British car. For both cars however, European (and US) sales as a whole have fallen well short of expectations, despite both carmakers’ projections. Curiously, the picture is similar for both marques’ CUV offerings – both Stelvio and F-Pace again being within 10,000 registrations of one another when one considers total European deliveries to date.[4]

Reasons for the Giulia’s vanishingly rare presence on our roads are many and varied. Notwithstanding more recent microprocessor shortages and any diversion of chip supply elsewhere (à la Castle Bromwich), the Giulia has been hampered by a lack of business-friendly variants (most of these saloons are company car leases), patchy sales and aftersales coverage, and all too often, a less than adequate dealership experience. But fundamentally, there remains a dogged and durable perception – and one successive brand stewards have failed to address – that the Guilia (or any Alfa Romeo), while alluring, remains a highly risky automotive punt to take.

Both XE and Giulia are vivid examples of company executives drawing poor conclusions, committing € billions to develop cars that would ultimately land as customers’ third or fourth choice on a user-chooser list. Their respective commercial fates were therefore as baked-in as their undoubted dynamic excellence, because the executives involved in their conception neglected to realise that in order for a challenger product to succeed, it must exceed customer expectations in just about every metric, not simply one or two.

The Giulia appears to be failing. Alfa Romeo has delivered in the region of 6000 examples across European markets throughout 2021 (Jan-Nov figures), with around 7600 reaching North American shores in that time. Add in a few thousand elsewhere and the picture doesn’t look all that promising. Another misfiring Alfa saloon – one more in a long and dispiriting line.

Unicorns are real.

Now under new ownership, and with yet another new CEO (former Peugeot chief, Jean-Philippe Imparato)[5], the Stellantis pathway leads in an altogether different direction. February 8 sees the reveal of the first Alfa Romeo model to make its debut since Carlos Tavares’ automotive behemoth came into being, the Biscione to reveal the commercially vital C-segment Tonale crossover for the first time. This car, derived from an FCA-derived JEEP platform with shared corporate drivetrains marks the Milan brand’s latest direction of travel: Transverse engines: front or four wheel drive: generous economies of scale: cost optimised.

After all, reality (much like the auto business itself), is a brutal mistress. For Alfisti everywhere, the Marchionne-helmed dream of a dynamics-led renewal looks to be over. So enjoy the Giulia while it lasts – we definitely won’t see its like again.

[1] Good grief! Even the Passat saloon is no more.

[2] While Infiniti has withdrawn entirely from Europe, Lexus has simply ceased offering the slow-selling IS model to European markets.

[3] The same executives who had probably warmly espoused the X-Type upon its scoping and introduction. Ironically, X400, while hardly a shining example of Jaguar product was (debatably) a more rounded product than XE, for all the former’s obvious flaws. 

[4] In Europe, Stelvio sales have consistently outperformed those of the Giulia, whereas in the US, where one might imagine otherwise, the gap between the two models is considerably narrower. 

[5] The Giulia is rather colour and specification sensitive. The example above shows it in a more flattering light. 

[6] Under Imparato’s leadership, Alfa Romeo has been brought under fiscal control, it’s said, but as for making money, that may prove trickier. In addition to a new CEO, Alfa also has a new design director.

Sales data via carsalesbase.com

All images were taken by the author.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

53 thoughts on “The Serpent’s Egg”

  1. One make or break Alfa that was a real success was the 156, at least in its first couple of years before their company fleet sales numbers collapsed.
    Both the XE and Giulia are suffering from a complete change of market where nowadays you don’t sell cars to individual owners but ownership experiences aka bulk lease contracts to fleet managers. Your product might be as good as it will the decisive factor is keepinge customer’s fleet manager happy, not the user of the car.
    Leasing companies and large customers negotiate their leasing contracts directly with the manufacturers, cutting out the dealers. The part for the dealers is the full service contract where over the time of the leasing contract every service is payed for in advance and most defects are covered by extended warranties. That’s a completely different business model than the one most dealers are used to and one which the German three have honed to perfection with a complete vendor lock-in situation and calculable cash flow. They also rigorously monitor the performance of their dealers – or rather their service departments – where even the smallest detail is regulated by the manufacturers.
    As a thought experiment do a quick calculation. A fleet lease contract for five hundred cars isn’t unusual and the usual running time of the contract are two years to 80,000 kms or three years to 120,000 kms for the cars. This means every car is in for a service two to three times a year, giving 1,000 to 1,200 service appointments for the contract. Then you have two of three mechanics working exclusively on cars from that contract. Then imagine our local Audi Zentrum which is handing out 2,500 to 3,000 cars to fleet lease users per year.
    That’s a completely different world than the one of Jaguar or Alfa.
    In the next village from me is the Jaguar importer’s HQ and combined with JLR’s and Aston Martin’S HQs living under the same roof they are about half the size of one of the three outlets of our Audi Zentrum. Everyone there is exceptionally friendly and helpful and seems to be honestly interested in making a contact with Jaguar a pleasant experience. I just can’t see how they would handle large scale leasing contracts involving servicing of five hundred cars or so. If they lose one such contract because they’re two cents per year mor expensive than the cheapest one they would be bankrupt.
    Fiat/Alfa’s HQ is much larger but nobody in their right mind would sign a contract committing them to long term contact with their service infrastructure – not after the experience they made with 156 which are not forgotten. Lack of service quality has been on of PSA’s biggest problems over the last couple of decades and is one of the reasons they can’t enter the company car market.
    I can’t see how two organisations with the same problem (bad dealer quality) can deliver a solution to it and a Jeep based Alfa depending on support from those dealers surely won’t be the solution they need.

  2. Good morning Eóin. An insightful, if depressingly familiar, summary of Alfa Romeo’s current (and perennial) plight. In believing that dynamic excellence would turn them into serious competition for the German premium trio, Alfa Romeo and Jaguar have ignored the stark lesson of recent automotive history: generations of indifferently handling Audi saloons had a negligible adverse impact on that marque’s ascent to parity with BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Of that trio, only BMW offered genuine dynamic excellence, and those qualities have been diluted and compromised by increasing weight and electronic ‘driver aids’ in recent years. AMG Mercedes-Benz models have usually been fast but otherwise rather blunt instruments. Does this matter? Not a jot.

    I believe that the vast majority of drivers of premium cars do not have the skills to differentiate between competent and excellent dynamics. What they really want is a car with a ‘sporting’ image, but also with richly appointed interiors, high levels of reliability, excellent dealer support and strong residuals to keep leasing/PCP costs down.

    A final thought: combining the talents of Alfa Romeo and Jeep might create a formidable competitor for JLR, but that is hardly where Stellantis should be aiming its fire.

    1. I like dynamic excellence in a car very much, even though I’ve almost never exploited these qualities to the fullest, I notice the difference at any speed. I’ve never driven the Giulia and I’m not looking to buy a new car any time soon, but I think I will like it a lot.

  3. Classic mistake made here in the US was a casual attitude towards parts and service: a friend waited 3 weeks for some brake parts (nothing too esoteric), which bluntly speaking, is the kiss of death here in the US. Its common for Italian exporters to underestimate the American market’s insistence on reliability, and if necessary, iron clad service, and above all, value. Add a somewhat insensitive base model not for urban Alfisti (too low to the ground, and not terribly interesting inside) led to reliance on a small group of fans who, while happy enough, are no longer a large market sector.

    1. That will only get worse for the people who did buy them since the dealer network is shrinking. At least the dealer closest to me – Berlin City Fiat/Alfa Romeo in Williston, Vermont – recently abandoned the franchise. I’m left to wonder where owners are expected to go for warranty work; the Berlin City group’s Kia dealership across the street? Goss Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram in the next town? The Alfa dealer in Albany or Boston?

  4. The only contemporary car that makes my heart beat passionately is the Alfa Romeo Julia.
    Never an alfisti, not quite a berlina type fan, but this car is a beautifully, artistically crafted automobile. Everything about it so fluent and harmonious. And haven’t even began commenting its colour palette.
    It always makes me wanna take a second look . A longer one.

    Never drove it, I wish it drives the way it looks.

  5. Instead of the Giulia, Alfa Romeo should have brought vehicle variants that other brands do not have (or did not have) in their range: Coupe, Spider, GT.
    Successors to the vehicles that Alfa Romeo built before they became a mass manufacturer with the 1900.
    Better to get 100% of a small market without competition than 0.1% of a big market with big competition.
    But what do I know…

    The Tonale is about to go into the most hotly contested market. This game can only be lost. Dave has listed almost all the decisive reasons in his commentary. In my opinion, one very decisive reason is still missing: buyers in this segment, whether fleet managers or private individuals, do not have Alfa Romeo on their radar. A supplier in this segment can only survive if it is either much better than the competition – difficult – or much cheaper – very difficult.

    1. That´s a good point. They also could leave the Giulia in the market with incremental improvements instead of 6 year replacement dates. They have a customer base like the MX-5 and change can be much slower than for the mass market cars from BMW and Audi and Mercedes.

    2. As much I like the idea of a coupe, Spider or GT, I don’t see this working out. The development costs are significant, the numbers sold low. I think coupe, spider and GT combined will sell in the name numbers if not less than the Giulia. Just my two cents.

  6. “Your product might be as good as it will the decisive factor is keepinge customer’s fleet manager happy, not the user of the car.” I did some research on problems with assistive technology design. In part, the fact the user was not the choooser led to the products being ugly and stigmatising. In contrast, the more direct relationship of the user to consumer products meant manufacturers had more pressure on them to serve nice, humane items to the customer. It´s indicative of a non-competitive market that the user-manufacturer relationship is less important than the middle man, in this case the fleet managers who correspond to the bureaucrats in healthcare operations who buy cheap ugly assistive technology and dish it out to the user/patient. Would anyone then agree that BMW/Audi/Mercedes are now in the same posision GM/FoMoCo/Chrysler were in the 1970s of being able to ignore private buyers more than they should. A properly competitive market would have Jaguar, Infiniti and Alfa able to get a living wage out of the market instead of the marginal inroads they´ve made. BMW et al still make good enough cars; that they have such a huge share of the market is down not to the products but interelationship of fleet-customers to the dealers and the manufacturer. One way to get a competitive market is to change tax law to end the favourable deals fleet buyers get. In the end we all pay for this by reduced taxes on the perks of company drivers. It might be okay to get a break for having a company car but they buyer/owner should do the work of looking after the car during ownership.

    1. Fleet leasing contracts are neigher ugly nor sigmatising. You only have to accept that your customer is the one that’s paying the bill in the end and you see that the fleet manager is the customer and the effective driver is a necessary evil and manufacturers as well as fleet managers could do without them.
      Easy to understand products (full service contract including fuel bills and tyres) at low prices (residual values artificially inflated and subidised by manufacturers for lower monthly fees) and – very important – no hassle customer service. The last thing fleet managers need are dealers that don’t properly service the cars and he needs to permanently annoy by phone calls to remember them of their job.
      A friend of mine was fleet manager at a company that in the mid-Nineties had five hundred something BMWs in their fleet with the service done by the nearby factory owned BMW subsidiary. He had quarterly meetings with the service managers of said subsidiary because he permanently got complaints from drivers about the service quality. Then he did what he’d threatened to do: he prematurely cancelled the complete leasing agreement due to lack of service from the dealer, even if he had to pay a lot of extra compensation to get out of the contract. The relevant meeting even was attended even by someone from Munich’s service department but it was too late. The complete contract went to Audi which up to then had not been on their user-chooser list. Audi delivered first rate service and former BMW users weren’t even asked for their opinion and simply got an A4 to replace their 3er.
      How long do you think it would take any of Stellantis’ brands to get into that situation? One week or maybe two but surely not more than three with daily phone calls adressing the lack of service.
      And that’s before you look a their product range that is unsuitable to reflect a company’s hierarchy with a 3er for the sales rep, a 5er for the sales manager and a 7er for the general manager.

    2. Dave, your comment is depressing, but probably accurately describe the situation.

      I think your description of the sales reality shows why some vehicle variants and brands have disappeared in recent years and the manufacturers’ range of products (body versions, colours, interior design) has increasingly developed into a one-size-fits-all mass market.
      The private buyer no longer plays a role for the manufacturer, as the manufacturers are fixated on unit numbers, and the leasing customer also plays no role, as different criteria play a role for fleet managers than for an individual customer.

      Your example does not give much hope for the survival of Alfa Romeo. The Giulia did not make it to the hoped-for numbers, the Tonale will probably not reach its target either – both based on your description of the sales situation.

      The arbitrariness of the product market is furthermore reinforced by the legally prescribed type of drive. Under the bonnet, everything is the same. On the outside, the products are only differentiated by different “wrinkles”.
      “Good” is a product only if it meets the criteria of the fleet managers – regardless of whether it is really good. Hence the failure of Jaguar, Lexus, Lancia et al.

      Hence the failure of the Giulia – and hence probably the failure of the Tonale.
      According to your description, with the Giulia Alfa Romeo has pretty much reached all private customers who absolutely want an Alfa Romeo, too few for a mass manufacturer.

    3. In Germany between eighty (5er et al.) and close to hundred percent (7er, Cayenne, Q7) of sales go into corporate contracts and even the humble Golf has about sixty percent of its German sales going into corporate leasing. The German Three fight a cut throat competition for these contracts and their products get ever more similar and all follow the same trends like overdose of nannying electronics and shocking decline in quality. Now you can fight for the rest of the market of which only a tiny proportion are high income individualists that are willing to pay their own money for a product with style and heavy depreciation. I wouldn’t mind paying my money for a Giulia instead of an A4 but I’m not willing to take the non-service of Alfa dealers, at least not after I had experienced Audi levels of service.

    4. Given how important the auto industry is to Germany’s economy, I’d say government intervention is justified through the tax code. Jack up the taxes for company-car use to double or more of other forms of compensation, and make flat-rate reimbursement for company use of personal cars tax-free (as it effectively is for me in the US as my employer pays it out in cash).

  7. I do think that a major reason for these two models less than stellar performance is their lack of brand style. Both XE and Giulia are thinly tinselled facsimiles of the 3 Series – in proportion, profile and detail. If these cars wanted to get a look-in they would have needed to exemplify the best of their respective brand DNAs, inside and out. The 156 was a perfect example of this – a car who singular style brought it into consideration with the German triumvirate, even if traditional Alfa weaknesses ultimately let it down. Jaguar – to my eyes – has yet to deliver a modern car that exemplifies their brand DNA.

  8. The trick here is to have an approach to the market. Seen in light of the discussion of corporate vs. special interest niche (or even general public niche), its clear what the issues are, and how so much of the effort seems (at least from this perspective) misguided or off target. The irony is that niche production is now more feasible than in a long time, and yet somehow some of these guys have it backwards: making niche products to serve a broader marketplace. Doesn’t sound like a recipe for success. Need a smarter plan.

  9. I have owned a number of cars in this segment, including the Guilia and the XE. I value their dynamic qualities very highly, and they are generally much better to drive than their German counterparts (recently had a week with a BMW 330i, dull and mute). But I just wonder whether 8-10/10ths dynamic qualities are really what most other people are looking for when they buy? What % of buyers would notice the change in steering feel in BMWs over the last decade or care? Is this point of difference really enough to attract sales volumes? Also, 15 years ago this seems to have been a less contested segment at least here in the US for RWD based models – no Jag, no Alfa, no Cadillac (the ATS is another dynamic success but market failure in this space), no Koreans, all of whom have entered a shrinking market space with weaker dealers and poorer reputations than the main incumbents. I am just a consumer, but I wonder how realistic their chances of commercial success really ever were.

  10. Thinking back to the recent articles about Saturn, the answer to the question of ‘What do non-car people (most people) want to drive?’ is ‘A nice car, with a low-hassle ownership experience and a badge that other people will respect’. Step forward, the German brands.

    Does handling matter? No; people buy SUVs.

    Poor old Alfa Romeo, then, but poor old Volvo S60, too, with its 7,000 European sales per year. The Tesla Model 3 saloon sells 10 times that amount, in Europe.

    I’m a bit surprised about the Passat, but I guess Volkswagen’s idea is to quit while they’re ahead. The Arteon is meant to take up the slack, until the ‘Aero B’ EV saloon arrives, next year.

    https://www.autocar.co.uk/car-news/new-cars/volkswagen-aero-b-ev-saloon-winter-tests-2023-launch-nears

    On a more positive note for Alfa Romeo, the Tonale concept looks nice and is available as a hybrid. They need to get on with electrification and at least the giant Stellantis group has the resources to do it.

  11. Since Fiat, Lancia and Alfa Romeo stopped to cultivate products continuity in the 90ies the long fade out of italian mass car production began.

    The unwillingness to accept customers needs – estate cars especially in Europe – added on speed to their way down.

    To often dealerships where changed, therefore those mechanics with deep experience went lost. What remained are unmotivated module changers with almost zero identification with the products and the customers.

    The italian way of spareparts drama adds on additional reasons for the missing success.

    Money went lost with unnecessary toys like Alfa 4C. This car never earned back its development and production costs and also did it not as an imagemaker.

    Giulias and Stelvios pricing here in Austria reached an level that customers do not believe Alfa Romeo, what happend in the long lasting past does not justify this.

    Even if I am an very enthusiastic fan of italian cars – all in my family I made driving italian makes – I have to accept that italian mass car production is near to its „grande finale“

  12. When Fiat/AlfaRomeo/ Lancia stopped continuity in their productlines mid90ies the long journey towards the final end started.

    Managers missunderstood customer needs – estate cars for example – and neglected trends – SUV for example

    The market and Fiat/Alfa/Lancia seperated from each other, experiments like 4C wasted huge amount of money.

    Dealerships were disrupted, employees with experience and knowledge left disappointed.

    Neighbours were close to order an Stelvio, they need memory seats both driver and codriver. Stelvio? Not available that time, so they came home with Mercedes.

    The non existing spare parts policy adds on speed on the way down.

    I made all in my family driving italian cars, however I see no chance to convince them in the future again.

    I fear in 5 years the books will be closed.
    I hope I am wrong.

  13. Regarding my remark above concerning the driving skills of the typical premium car buyer, I should clarify that anyone who reads DTW is, by definition, pretty unlikely to fall into that classification!

    1. I can step forward here as a not-really-very-good driver. And I got another speeding ticket two days ago, 67 kmph in a 60 kmph zone. Bah!

    2. Oh, that’s harsh! In the UK there is an informal +10% tolerance before you get fined, so you’re barely over that. Rules is rules, I guess.

      My driving skills are certainly nothing special and I’m not be fast driver, but I do appreciate good, feelsome steering.

    3. Indeed. What irks me about the system is that unlike, say robbing a bank where it is easy to keep to the letter and spirit of the law, driving below the speed limit is a matter of luck as well as willpower. I can´t accidentally rob a bank or shoot my neighbour but I can fail to see a change in the speed limit signs. The other day I found myself parallel to a van as the road narrowed; I accelerated and so did the van. I could not drop back because of a car behind the van so I accelerated a bit more. FLASH! That´ll be 150 euros, please. Ignoring that petty problem, the main point is why a fast car makes any sense today. You can lose your license in a Suzuki Celerio, not just a V6 sportscar.

  14. I commented briefly and rather negatively on the Tonale concept when it was revealed in the shadow of the Fiat Centoventi at Geneva in 2019. As it approaches production reality three years later, I’m intrigued as to how it will turn out. The wait’s a short one – 8 February for the revelation.

    How much Stellantis will be in there? The Opel experience suggests they can move fast – but in the case of the Tonale the design was frozen too soon for Monsieur Learned – who I hold in high regard – to make much difference. The platform is reported to be the “small-wide 4×4 architecture”, shared with the 500X, Jeep Renegade, and Jeep Compass, and originating with the 2005 Punto and 2006 Corsa.

    The Alfa website makes much of hybrid drive systems, but it’s not clear as to what sort, and how much and how little hybridisation will be available. The Fiats’ and Jeeps’ plug-in hybrid option is a 1.3 Firefly petrol engine, with an electric motor driving the rear wheels only. Their battery capacity is 11.4 kWh giving a WLTP zero-emission range of around 30 miles. That sort of PHEV comes at a price – will there be a cheaper mild-hybrid?

    The Tonale takes the place of the Tipo 940 Giulietta, by far the best-selling Alfa of recent times. Production of that one ended in December 2020. There’s a clause in The Fiat Charter about not replacing a successful model for at least four years after its discontinuation. Looks like someone wasn’t paying attention, but the lacuna is still long enough for those owners – or renters – of 3-4 year old Giuliettas who are suv-minded to have signed up already for their C-HRs, CX-3s, Tucsons, maybe even Formentors.

    The Tonale had better be good – and cheap – enough to entice them back to the viper badge. SUV people are spoilt for choice these days.

    1. Late in the day (much like Alfa, lets see if as few people will see this post as they will actual Alfas on the road), but here it is:

      A few hybrid options, not just plug in. The design hasn’t changed all that much from the concept shown below, but to me it somehow has lost a bit of appeal, or maybe surface tension. It’s a little oo obvious now that it’s a new nose and rear grafted onto a shrunken Stelvio. Which will be even more obvious when the Stelvio will get its inevitable and already rumoured update featuring the same front and rear…

      Hopefully the PSA part of Stellantis – used to actually selling cars – can cobble together some attractive ownership propositions for, say, private lease. Unfortunately that still leaves the problem of the dealership network unadressed.

      For comparision, here is the concept version (both images from Wikipedia):

    2. I think the production Tonale is great – actually better than the concept, while being very faithful to it. It has a lower, more open, less pinched ‘face’, in particular.

      From some angles it has similar themes to the 147, in a good way. The Jeep parts don’t matter – platform and component sharing has been a fact of life for ever.

      I think that they’ve done a very good job and if it comes in interesting colours inside and out it’ll succeed as long as the reliability is okay, and the dealers don’t slam customers’ fingers in the door like they usually do.

      Here’s some detailed analysis which I thought was interesting.

    3. Thanks for that, Charles, it’s indeed interesting. I’m still not completely convinced, though. I would have liked the shoulder line to be just a little more squared off to give the car some definition. I’ve never liked the rear end of the Stelvio, so I don’t like this rear end either. That said (or moaned 😉), some cars look better in the metal than on photos. Let’s hope that’s the case here (for me and anyone else not yet convinced). Let’s also hope that Alfa/Stellantis gets it right. The small SUV trend shows little sign of abating so at least they’re on time for once and – as I wrote – nail the ownershop proposition. Fingers crossed, because if there’s any brand I want to succeed, it’s Alfa.

    4. Good evening all. We have an in-depth report on the Tonale coming up on Wednesday. Stay tuned!

  15. In my first car, if you were doing 30mph and wanted to do 40 you would put the pedal to the floor and count to 20. In a modern car you twitch your toe and it’s practically instant.

  16. Hi Eóin, I just finished reading your write-up on the Giulia, although I must admit I’ve yet to read the comparison to the equivalent Jaguar. You mentioned that Marchionne’s rationale was “getting it right”, yet I fail to see exactly what he got right in his tenure at Fiat/FCA’s helm, besides the Fiat 500. He’ll always remain known as yet another Fiat CEO who prioritized Alfa Romeo über alles, and yet didn’t even equip Alfa with the right cars and engines to have a fighting chance against the German onslaught.

    I’ll remind everyone here of the 159/Brera/Spider trio. Way back in 2008, I was actually considering the 159 as a replacement for my trusty Clio. I had test-driven the 159 2.2 in 2007; I was already 32, and I was about to “get serious” about life – I was trying to improve my career, and I thought the time had come for me to gradually settle down and maybe start a family. Still, I remained a shameless petrolhead. So, the Brera (which I had also test-driven) was ruled out, and the 159 seemed ideal. It had four doors, and a luggage compartment bigger than that of the Clio. It looked great. It had beautiful interior. I loved the way it drove. But it failed miserably as a family car, which it was supposed to be: all the packaging figures were easily bettered by my dad’s MY2007 C5. A family car, by default, has a folding rear seat as standard equipment. Guess what? The 159 didn’t. You had to pay extra for it. And extra for a split one. Excuse me? What moron thought this would be a good idea?

    Also, cost of ownership was ridiculous, due to the terminally insane engine options. I’ll emphasize petrol engines, because diesel-engined passenger cars were a very novel thing in Greece back then: for decades, they were outright prohibited throughout the country. Then, the ban was partially lifted: and at the time, I could buy a diesel, but I couldn’t enter Athens or Thessaloniki. Yet. So, my only meaningful options were petrol engines. At first, the 159 shipped with 1.9- and 2.2-liter JTS four-pots (which replaced the Twin Spark units), and a 3.2-liter JTS V6.

    In absolute numbers, the 1.9 was reasonably powerful. But it didn’t have enough “poke” to cope with the ludicrously heavy body. Performance-wise, the 2.2 was the “sweet spot”, but financially unpalatable: if I chose it, I’d be hit with a hefty road tax bill and a luxury tax bill due to its displacement. The 1.9 was less bad in this department, but still unattractive. Then came the 1.8-liter version with 140 PS, but it was bringing the 159 a bit too close to Vectra-land. As for the 1.75 TBI? Yeah, right. Friends of mine who had this engine in their Deltas waxed lyrical about its performance, but its thirst made them weep. Sure enough, I ended up with an 1.4-liter, 150 PS Delta. Badly put together, but far more practical.

    Marchionne got basically nothing right with the 159. When everyone was downsizing their engines and adding turbochargers, he wasted money on the big, normally-aspirated JTS engines. The 1.75 TBI came way too late in the game. The car was nowhere near as spacious as a 3-series rival should be, it was too expensive to act as a proper 156 replacement, and it didn’t have the practicality that a family car needed. I’ll disagree with the notion that Alfas must be rear-wheel drive. The Alfasud and its derivatives were excellent driver’s cars. The 155 drove well. The 145 and 146 did, too. So did the 156/147/GT – they were outstanding. OK, the 147 GTA badly needed four-wheel drive.

    Now, to the Giulia: when I first saw it, I thought it looked good, but it was pointless. I don’t care how much praise car reviewers heap on its handling. Yes, it’s an Alfa Romeo: it will handle well. Get over it. Move on. What else does it offer? Does it offer real-world, down-to-earth, engine options? No. Does it offer the practical features a family car needs nowadays? No. The competition handed it its posterior on telematics, interior space, places to put your oddments, etc.

    Marchionne claimed he was a pragmatist. He wasn’t. He wasted the potential of the Giulietta floorpan, which, by the way, should have been introduced on the Delta III. Did we see a Giardinetta version of the Giulietta? Noooo. A Giardinetta or a coupé version of the Giulia? Nooooo. Did he make the much-needed five-door version of the MiTo? Nope. He didn’t even develop it any further. Did he improve the dealer network? Heaven forbid! A Fiat CEO bothering to clean up the dealer network? That’s preposterous and totally against tradition! What did he ever accomplish, besides sinking Lancia and saying it has no legacy? Well, he let the idiots (and that’s the most polite thing I can say) at Alfa Romeo waste money on pet projects like the meaningless 4C. He listened to the “purists”, and didn’t bother to make (as you so succinctly wrote) any version of the Giulia “business-friendly”. And he continued the Fiat/FCA tradition of failing most metrics while doing pretty well at one or two.

    The Giulia is a prime example of the ineptitude exhibited by the grossly overrated Marchionne (first and foremost) and his lieutenants that “led” the subsidiaries from weakness to weakness.

    1. It costs a lot of money to make a car balanced right across the board and then also somehow make it a convincing sports saloon. I suppose FCA reasonsed AR customers didn´t set a high price on the daily demands of load space and general utility. It turns out that that hypothesis was incorrect. The nature of the market means that 89% adequacy can translate into 100% failure. If I were you I´d have picked the base-engine 159 and enjoyed the style. You can´t really use the capacity of most higher performance cars now. The days of hooning at 130 kmph on little roads are pretty much gone.

  17. Stark realities stated here indeed – but, let’s take a look at a [potentially hopeful] and completely different technological sector for potential insight:
    The custom Desktop PC Computer market – a sector that has and continues to experience a renaissance – a sector with even more cut throat profit margins, one which pragmatism is the only way to survive…yet, here we are – the audience is here – it wants more RGB lighting even if tacky, more overclocking capacity – a computer that you can customize and swap parts on a whim – the big companies have in fact taken notice since the audience being served, is young and willing – yes the Laptop and iPad market is king, but it’s not a zero sum game.
    The potential lesson here is not everyone is out there to look out for a leased SUV or a dull corporate Merc/BMW/VW/Audi [similar to a closed-off system such as a Dell or Mac laptop], maybe had the price and looks and right customization options had been present – maybe then, you’d get more people than just the nerdy aficionados on board – that, of course cannot happen when your product costs more than €30k – you need to address a younger audience with tighter pockets here. The demise of the custom Desktop PC Market was announced multiple times – yet here it is, thriving – not because of the pandemic but because of an alignment of options to offer to the public in addition to the allure of customized self-serviced control – but I could be wrong.

    1. The problem in the German market is that there’s something called a company car prvilege in their tax laws.
      A company car costs about a third in income tax that it would cost to run the same car using your own money. Tax is only for the car itself and an unlimited amount of fuel is tax free. Any car classified as ‘electric’ (big plug in hybrids) cost half of that.
      And that’s before you start tax reduction wizardry which can easily lead to zero tax for the car if it is professionally used. This makes it much more attractive for employees to get a big car than a salary increase and it shows on German roads and in their sales statistics. That’s the whole reason for the exorbitantly high proportion of corporate leasing contracts in sales and for the large average size of cars on the road.
      German politics uses this tax privilege to press otherwise unattractive technologies into the market like PHEVs or BEVs in the hope that three years down the road after the end of the leasing contract these cars will flood the used car market at affordable prices.
      Abandoning that tax prvilege would let implode the Big Three’s sales numbers just like it happened in Britain when a new taxation model was introduced there in the Nineties.

    2. That’s very interesting about the revival in desktop PCs, Aristeidis. I’ve been thinking about retiring my trusty but ‘high-mileage’ laptop and replacing it with a desktop machine. Since I acquired a tablet, the laptop never leaves my study and a desktop computer would be much more suitable for the considerable amount of writing I now do, not least by improving my posture when sitting at my desk.

    3. Daniel, since you need to do serious typing, you need a good desktop, with a 24″ display or thereabouts and a resolution of at least 1920×1200, so that you can enough on-screen real estate to keep two text pages open. You’ll also need a professional-grade keyboard: a good, mechanical keyboard with the thickest PBT keys you can find and Cherry MX switches. Your other option is Unicomp’s New Model M, which uses the same “buckling spring” switches as the venerable IBM Model M.

    4. Good afternoon Konstantinos. Many thanks for those pointers. I’ll certainly bear your recommendations in mind when I take the plunge.

      I’m very fond of my HP laptop, which has worked faultlessly for almost five years and, at a guess, around half a million words typed. The keyboard looks pretty worn and the mouse-pad has given up the ghost, but an external mouse on a traditional(!) mouse-mat is actually better to use. I try to observe a sustainability principle not to replace any piece of equipment while it is still serviceable (or I might just be a bit tight!) so when the laptop expires I’ll definitely switch to the setup you describe.

    5. If you want sustainability, grab a refurbished “grey logo” IBM Model M, a computer with a motherboard that gives it enough current through the PS/2 port, enable PS/2 support if you’re on Windows 10 or later, and you’re good to go.

  18. Ok, the Giulia has been a failure, but to see it damned with faint praise even here is harsh. Describing it as the best looking compact four door only because the bar is so low is unfair – it’s a genuinely alluring design, in my opinion.

    For those who have taken the plunge – well done, and try to hold onto it if you can. It will probably be a classic one day, honoured with a praiseworthy write up on this very website. Minor practicalities, tax implications and fleet sales tactics will be long forgotten by then!

  19. Let’s not forget that Marchionne’s main aim was making money, rather than cars – by which I mean: His modus operandi of promoting ever more ambitious/deluded future growth plans was devised in order to appeal to the financial markets, rather than please customers. He was a small-scale Elon Musk in that regard, and, from the perspective of his bosses, it worked. The Elkanns are much wealthier today then they were before Marchionne entered the Turinese stage.

    This isn’t to say that there was no waste – far from it. Both money and time aplenty *were* wasted as a consequence of knee-jerk ‘strong’ leadership and dreadful product planning. Too much trust seems to have been put in the wrong people, too: on the design side, the same decision makers that had failed at capitalising from Maserati’s pedigree with the Quattroporte V/Ghibli/Levante were put in charge of the Giulia and Stelvio, which were slight improvements, but certainly not – to quote Professor Lord Gerry McGovern of Gaydon – ‘f*ck me’ beautiful. As they ought to have been, in order to cause as many potential customers to ignore their prejudices and go for the exotic choice, against better judgement.

    1. I´d like to say that yes, the Giulia is an attractive car. It has some truly deluxe interior options making for a distinguished carriage. I also think Gerry McGovern has more than earned enough credit for me to take back anything satirical I said many years ago. I got that one wrong. It happened when I looked inside one of the LR creations five year ago and saw the kind of design I´d expect of a modern Lancia. I don´t like all the exteriors equally but many of them are excellent in a time when excellence is in short suppply (with Suzuki jpn and Volvo and Kia/Hyundai leading the pack).

  20. The pictures in Eoin’s article were superb, could I be offered the third one in higher resolution please? I intend to use it as a wallpaper in the pc. I knew nothing about the AR new car, dtw is a place to learn things the good way. However, Dave’s comment alarmed me that there is an industry, a market, there are customers, and markets follow rules, often non written ones. Actually, Dave’s comment was unpleasant for my way of optimistic car-thinking, but it expresses reality and sense. I can’t afford a Julia even as third hand rusting shell, I just hope others could. We need auto-diversity in the world we live in, like bio-diversity in nature.

  21. I too confess my passion. It’s not rational, but who buys a 3 series for its carrying capacity?

    1. Even in the E30 days, people generally bought it because they thought it would enhance their sex appeal in the same way certain kinds of bathing suit enhance the figures of there, more well-toned, specimens of their sex.

  22. Good evening gooddog. Exactly, the answer is that there are cheaper and at the same time more efficient load carriers. I just say that when I want to buy bread, cookies and this kind of stuff, I go to the oven, the bread shop I mean, following an other road, to pass from a house where a Giulia is parked. I spend some time admiring her, and I leave with a smile. I don’t know what the neighborhood folks are thinking about this.

    1. There is a Giulia in my neighborhood too. The owner says he loves his car. The Fiat-Alfa dealer in this area is especially reputable. I left this area thirty years ago to live and work in Manhattan. Amazingly, when I returned in 2018 the dealer was still in business, selling Alfas.

      https://www.fiatusaoflarchmont.com/more-about-us.htm

  23. I think there is nothing wrong with trading some practicality for a bit of flash, ego enhancement, or especially driving pleasure.

    However I still feel as many do here that the DS brand’s business model based on establishing on a high couture image seems a bit questionable, though they did manage to anticipate the “shark fin” trend.

    The E30 always seemed to me to be an ideal compromise between the Maserati Biturbo (frivolous vessel in which to dump money) and the sensible Honda Accord I actually owned at the time.

  24. Little late to the party, but nevertheless…
    Once again, I have to praise Eoin’s writing prowess, for delivering such an exquisitely structured text, and agree with most of his arguments on the imminent demise of ALFA, and Italian mass carmaking in general.
    Being stung from the serpent at a young age, almost all my personal cars were Italian, until fairly recently, where I sold my 940 2.0 JTDm Giulietta for “something better”. It was really the first time (which in my mind felt like Judas’ betrayal) where I realized my ALFA was short on expectations and driving pleasure. In the 2+ years of ownership, I found it just “adequate”, but not exciting, thrilling or even “nice”. That’s when it hit me. The Giulietta could be a FIAT, a Peugeot, a SEAT, even a Mitsubishi, bar the Italian design and quirks. The fact that it sold better than anything else ALFA had produced in 15 years assured my suspicions. “Real” ALFAs, as so many romatics dream and love (myself included) don’t have a viable place today. As most all commenters pointed, a “good” overall score in reviews is what sells cars, coupled with strong after sales, parts availability and average reliability (company leases are not really a thing in Greece or Cyprus, so I don’t have the experience to state an opinion). The formula used on the ’50s 101 Giulietta or ’60s 105/115 Giulia cannot be applied in the modern world. Cars are way too similar nowadays (a point which was even raised in the current Giulia, marking the resemblance with BMW’s 3 series), and demand acute knowledge of brand identity to differentiate a Toyota from a Honda, or a Hyundai from a Renault. And that doesn’t seem to bother anyone. What bothers them though is lack of Apple Carplay/Android Auto, heated and ventilated seats, adaptive cruise and 360 deg camera. Features almost all new Giulias/Stelvios don’t have. Nevermind the excellent chassis tuning (which is -to be honest- fully exploited only on the QV variants), the avant-garde detailing and the carbon-fiber propshaft. ALFA simply doesn’t have the status, brand recognition, service network and even the technology to compete with the German three.
    Once upon a time 50 years ago, people bought cars on a completely different mindset. Car technology was advancing, but with much smaller steps. Every carmaker excelled in one or two metrics, and consumers adhered to the model which mostly satisfied their (much more restricted) needs. We still use the prejudiced stereotypes of that period, although they have since seized to make any sense: Japanese cars are reliable, French cars are comfortable, German cars are durable, British cars fall apart, Italian cars rust and/or catch fire. Since FIAT failed to follow trends and industry changes 30 years ago, it is unlikely that will be ever able to catch up.

    In the end, I replaced my Giulietta with a fully loaded Volvo V40 T5 AWD. I didn’t have it in me to go for a German brand, and the current French crop is a bit too weird for my tastes. The Swede proved to be better in any metric, except for steering feel (and yes, even in city driving, the steering numbness is felt). As my ownership closes the 2 year mark, I started thinking what could replace the Volvo. The Giulia was considered, but apart from being quite expensive, its features are just so early 2015…

    1. Well put, vkarikas. It certainly seems that true car enthusiasts are, if not an actually dying breed, are certainly a minority one. Cars are now seen to be either simply white goods or, if they display the ‘right’ label, fashion accessories. No future, then, for Alfa, Lancia, Jaguar… But long live DTW!

  25. I have zero hopes for the Tonale. It’s a repackaged Jeep. ‘Nuff said.

    1. At least it’s being made in a proper Alfa factory – Stabilimento Giambattista Vico, as we must now call the Neapolitan Linwood.

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