ALFA Romeo has more than 200 engineers working in a secret “skunkworks” developing eight new models in Italy to completely revitalise the brand by 2018 in a €5 billion ($A7.4b) product overhaul, according to plans revealed today in Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s five-year vision.
As expected, the 104-year-old Italian marque will go back to its roots, dropping the front-drive Mito and Guillietta hatchbacks and launching more hard-core rear- and all-wheel-drive models with 50-50 weight ratios, class-leading power-to-weight ratios and Italian style.
Along with Jeep and Maserati, Alfa will become one of FCA’s global growth brands, but unlike Jeep with its world manufacturing plan in six countries, Alfa will remain an Italian icon made exclusively in its homeland.
The first of the new-generation cars to issue forth from Alfa will be the new mid-sizer – often referred to as Guilia – in late 2015.
This will be followed between 2016 and 2018 by seven others – two new compact cars to replace the Guillietta, another medium car, a large car, two SUVs and a “specialty car”.
The latter is expected to be a sportscar, probably a bigger brother to the new 4C that will remain the only current Alfa to survive the Alfa range renovation that the company expects to help grow the brand’s global sales from 74,000 last year to 400,000 by the end of 2018.
Five new engines – three petrol and two diesel – are included in the plans, with a high-performance V6 said to be capable of more than 370kW, according to a chart shown by Alfa CEO Harald Wester at today’s presentation in Detroit.
Mr Wester said the new Alfa Romeo range was being developed without interference from FCA head office.
He said Alfa Romeo cars developed in the past two decades under Fiat Group had missed the five key attributes of previous Alfas, namely advanced, innovative engines, perfect 50-50-weight distribution, a set of unique technical solutions, class-leading power-to-weight ratio and ground-breaking and distinctly Italian design.
“With the exception of style, Alfa’s DNA had not been respected,” he said.
Mr Wester said Alfa needed a radical solution that would resist the pressure that a mass car producer could exert, and at the same time not being bound by traditional processes.
He said the result was a “skunkworks” of engineers – headed by two Ferrari executives – isolated from the company and permitted to recruit the best engineers from across the FCA group.
With more than 200 engineers at present – and with plans to expand to more than 600 by 2018 – the group is charged with developing new Alfa cars and technologies, benchmarked against German competitors.
These cars will all be rear or all-wheel drive, on architectures capable of covering segments from C small car to E large car, including SUVs.
The 4C launched in Europe last year was the first product from the skunkworks, which Mr Wester described as “just a start … and by far not enough”.
“The best is yet to come,” he said, saying “a cloverleaf” would land in showrooms in 2015.
FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne said the company had learned learned from its success and failures over the years.
“Now is the time to maximise its potential and to take a giant step forward” he said.
“We are ready to move forward with €5 billion in investments and an aggressive product plan and the leveraging of our global distribution capability,” he said.