Alfa Romeo working on new-generation hero

BY RON HAMMERTON | 13th Mar 2014

A NEW-GENERATION Alfa Romeo car with ground-breaking technology and all-new architecture is under development to lead the Italian brand’s renewed global attack from the end of 2015.

Further clues to the vehicle are expected to be outlined by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne on May 6 in Detroit as part of his sweeping strategic vision for the group’s brands that also include Maserati, Dodge, Lancia and Ferrari.

Under the plan, Alfa and Jeep will spearhead the company’s global push along with Maserati and Ferrari, meaning Fiat and Chrysler are expected to take a back seat. The future of Dodge and Lancia remains in question.

You can expect the new Alfa model to be light, powerful, rear-wheel drive and Italian to its boot straps, as Mr Marchionne orders Alfa to return to its roots to find its international mojo.

Along with the new rear-drive, carbon-fibre-based Alfa 4C sports car, the secret new Alfa will help lead the brand back into North America, and is likely to spawn other models off a modular platform.

Like all Alfa Romeos in future, the new car will be built exclusively in Italy, despite the fact that such a manufacturing strategy will hamstring Alfa in China where some of its direct competitors, including Audi, have major manufacturing centres.

Mr Marchionne said Alfas might be made in other countries at some point in the future, “but not on my watch”.

“I am very much of the view that Alfa Romeo needs to remain an Italian brand, and it needs to be produced in Italy with Italian-produced power trains,” he said.

“And I, this is not a nationalistic view of things, but there are some things that belong to a place, and Alfa belongs to Italy, as Maserati does and as Ferrari does.” Mr Marchionne said it would be “a gross mistake to try and take Alfa away from the jurisdiction (Italy)”.

Product wise, he told journalists at the Geneva motor show that the corporation had had a “severe rethink” on Alfa’s product direction.

“If you look at it (Alfa), it was known fundamentally for a very limited number of things – it was a rear-wheel-drive architecture, it was incredibly light, it was incredibly good looking and it was incredibly powerful, and so power-to-weight ratios were unique,” he said.

“The performances of the engines were something exceptional. The cars were truly good looking. These are all things that you need to go back to.

“One of the fundamental issues of Alfa Romeo is that it never ever had, to the best of my knowledge, and this may be famous last words, but it did not have a front-wheel-drive architecture, not until Fiat showed up.

“So somehow we need to go back and rethink all those pieces because they were a necessary ingredient of Alfa.

“That’s what made them unique. That’s what made them as appealing as they used to be, and as they continue to be in a different way, but we need to go back and rethink all those things and find a way in which to make them relevant again.” Mr Marchionne said the company had made “significant progress” in choosing architectures for the new breed of Alfa Romeos.

“I’m still hopeful that we’ll be in production by the end of 2015 with the first vehicle, which is representative of the new Alfas going forward,” he said.

“It is a huge amount of work. I don’t think you should be underestimating the amount of technical complexity associated with this because it is a complete rethink of what we have done, and that has a variety of consequences, some of which reflect the inherent risk with making technical choices the way we are.” Mr Marchionne promised that the new Alfa would have an element that would “be made available in the marketplace for the first time ever in any car”.

“So we are taking chances not only on the powertrain but even in terms of the component elements of this architecture,” he said.

“It’s no use talking about this now because I think you need to wait for the car.” Mr Marchionne said he did not think current Alfa models were relevant – a statement that appears to doom current front-drive models such as the MiTo and Giulietta.

He pointed to the new 4C as the type of car Alfa was capable of bringing to market.

“When you look at that car today and you look at the performance characteristics of the car, you recognise what Alfa is capable of doing,” he said.

“In a very short period of time, from an idea that started off from a sheet of paper in my office with (Harald) Wester (Alfa and Maserati CEO), we’ve gone from what appeared to be just a fundamental go-kart into a hell of a car,” he said.

“I think that that level of creativity and ingenuity needs to go back into the creation of a new Alfa. So it’s a complex world but I think we’re learning how to master it, so stay tuned.” Along with Alfa and Jeep, Maserati and Ferrari will remain global brands for Fiat Chrysler.

Alfa is expected to remain a compact car range, sitting below the smallest Maserati that, from 2016, is expected to be a production version of the Alfieri concept coupe shown at Geneva.

That means that Alfa Romeo cars are unlikely to have powertrains larger than a four-cylinder, and might not include a repetition of cars such as the 2006 8C sports car with its 4.7-litre V8.

Mr Marchionne said Fiat Chrysler was planning to dump all of the old Chrysler platforms now in use across the Fiat Chrysler group, and converge them all except for those under Chrysler large cars.

“So there is going to be a reduction, but we will take you through that when we get together in May,” he said.

The May announcement is shaping up as a watershed in Fiat Chrysler history, with sweeping changes on the cards for all the group’s marques.

Do not rule out announcements of future model and technology sharing arrangements with other manufacturers, perhaps including Suzuki as way of enlarging Fiat’s footprint in India.

Mr Marchionne was at pains to point out his good relations with Suzuki management.

The May announcement is also expected to include information on Fiat Chrysler’s deal with Mazda to share its next MX-5 sportscar.

The deal was to have included an Alfa model built on the Mazda platform in the Hiroshima plant, but most pundits believe that product now will be offered as a Fiat, under Mr Marchionne’s “Italy only” order for Alfa.

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