Paul Horrell22 April 2010

Alfa on the up

Parent company Fiat has big plans for its Italian marque, including another assault on the US

Alfa Romeo Giulietta

Alfa Romeo's future looks brighter. Again. Get yourself an espresso, pull up a comfy chair, and let us summarise this torrid saga.

Back in 2006, the company set out to double the number of cars sold by 2010. Instead, its sales actually fell by a third. In raw numbers, it looks even worse - it wanted to be at 300,000 and it's ended up at 100,000. For comparison, that's about a tenth of Audi's sales.

It also wanted to go into US dealers. It postponed that, too. Several times. And it still isn't there.

Things got so bad that the boss of the Fiat Group, Sergio Marchionne, started to wonder out loud whether he could give Alfa a future at all if the Giulietta didn't fly.

Well, happily he's done his sums again and changed his mind. The Italians have announced they're putting their shoulders to the wheel and giving Alfa another chance.

With a new 159 called Giulia, two new crossover 4x4s, a five-door MiTo, and a new Spider. Plus updates for the MiTo and new Giulietta versions. It's all go.

The Giulietta certainly made us happy when we drove it. It's almost completely new - nose to tail and under the skin. Its platform has been designed to be easily morphable to serve the needs of a huge range of cars, including Fiats, Chryslers and Jeeps. Because Fiat is now very much in the driving seat of the Chrysler Group, too.

So the 159 replacement, called the Giulia, will also be made from this strong, comparatively lightweight platform. Neatly solving the 159's obesity problem. It arrives, as a saloon and estate, in 2012.

The same year, Alfa will get a compact crossover. Again it'll use that adaptable platform, and it will be built in America because the US is so SUV-centric.

Alfa plans to supplement that with another bigger SUV, also made in Jeep factories using a Jeep platform, in 2014. Which gives them four years to give Jeep quality a good kick.

Oh, and in 2012, the MiTo gets a facelift, with a five-door arriving in 2012.

But what about sports cars? Well, the 147-based GT dies this year, the Brera and Spider next year. But the year after that, we're promised an all-new Spider. But Alfa isn't saying what it'll be like.

The only way Alfa can afford to engineer and produce all these new cars is to get the American launch successfully done. The plan is to use Maserati dealers at first. This means Alfas will be sold in fancy-looking shops in prosperous areas, rather than being stuck in the corner of edge-of-town Chrysler dealers.

All of which means Signore Marchionne says Alfa will be selling five times as many cars in 2014 as in 2010.

Now Marchionne is a clever and audacious bloke. He works all day and most of the night, seven days a week. He has successfully pulled the Fiat Auto group out of the financial mire when everyone said he couldn't. It made a profit last year, when most rivals failed miserably. He pulled off the remarkable Chrysler deal.

But this Alfa plan is unprecedented. It was Marchionne himself who said, four years ago, that Alfa would double sales and instead it slid back. Now he wants to increase by five times.

See you in four years, Sergio.

Paul Horrell, Consultant Editor of TopGear magazine

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