Ever since Alfa Romeo left the U.S. market in 1995, plans for a full-blown return have come in fits and starts, much to the chagrin of enthusiasts. When parent company FCA announced a €5 billion investment in the brand and launched the 4C over here in 2014, it looked like the brand was finally on its way to a comeback. Then came word of the gorgeous Giulia sedan arriving in 2016, and an all-new SUV set to follow in ’17, both previewing a new eight-car lineup to boost worldwide Alfa sales from a modest 68,000 in 2014 to over 400,000 by 2018, with the goal of selling 150,000 of those in the U.S. alone. The faithful were ecstatic — ourselves included.
After the pre-production Giulia and unnamed SUV were previewed at an FCA dealership show in August and a production-ready Giulia bowed during September’s Frankfurt Motor Show, everything seemed ready to go. But now we know that isn’t the case, because according to Automotive News, Alfa Romeo is delaying the launch of its new models, raising skepticism in the automotive world and dashing FCA chief Sergio Marchionne’s ambitious goals for its performance brand.
While this is a major setback, it’s by no means another death knell for Alfa Romeo in the U.S. According to two FCA suppliers, the Giulia and SUV are being delayed by six months in Europe due to safety and handling issues. While six months isn’t that long of a delay in the grand scheme of things, once you begin to factor in the additional three to six months it takes for a car to be tested and meet U.S. safety and emissions standards, and the fact that the Giulia was set to launch in the Old World by the end of 2015, you’re suddenly looking at an early 2017 launch date for the sedan, and even later for the SUV.
This is only the latest bit of bad news for Alfa Romeo. Much of FCA’s plans for the brand relied on a strong showing in the Chinese market, and with growth in that market now grinding to a halt, the company seems to be having second thoughts about Alfa’s big push. While FCA’s big financial investment still stands, Marchionne told analysts during FCA’s third-quarter results call that the company will need to “rejig” Alfa’s launch plans in order to compensate for the fluctuating markets. A reshuffled plan should be made public in January — shortly before the Giulia was supposed to hit showrooms.
And while the Chinese market probably has a lot to do with FCA’s sudden cold feet, another culprit is stablemate Maserati, whose sales are rapidly falling off around the world. This couldn’t come at a worse time for FCA, especially as it’s preparing to spin golden goose Ferrari off into its own company, and planning to rely heavily on both Alfa and Maserati to pick up the slack. Speaking with Automotive News, Max Warburton, an auto analyst at Bernstein, said “Maserati was the dry run for Alfa and it has not gone to plan.”
While the evidence is mounting that we’re going to see a different Alfa Romeo lineup than expected, much later than planned, FCA declined to comment on the Automotive News story and is likely to keep mum until Alfa Romeo’s presentation at at this month’s Los Angeles Auto Show. We’ll be on the floor there and will bring you more on this as it develops.
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