The Agonizing Adventure of Alfa Romeo

Alfa Romeo Header Image

How are Alfa Romeo still here? Don’t get me wrong, I love the italian motor co as much as the next guy, but it’s somewhat vexing to think that they’re still here after very publicly failing to turn hyperbole into real, quantifiable results in metal and rubber.

No Stranger To Italian Cars

I’m no stranger to Italian cars – My first car was a Fiat Punto. Metallic orange paint, city-mode for getting around those pesky corners that constantly get in the way and a great sound system (there was even a little subwoofer built into the side of the boot). 3 years of great memories were made in that car.

At the same time, my dad had an Alfa Romeo 156 estate followed by a black Alfa GT which absolutely blew me away. I’ve always thought of Alfa Romeos as being the equivalent of marmite for cars. There are many who hate them, but there are those who look past the slightly janky build-quality and engineering and see them how they really are – Pure Italian passion ready to burn rubber and melt faces.

The Here And Now

Here in 2013, there are no more than two Alfa Romeo models available (new). Gone is the aggressively-styled 159 executive saloon. There is no longer a beautiful Brera or a sporty Spider. Long passed are the days of the acclaimed 146 hatchback. What remains?

Alfa Giulietta
The Alfa Romeo Giulietta family hatchback- Image © Alfa Romeo

The Giulietta is a mid-sized hatchback aimed at the VW Golf and Ford Focus market. It’s a beautiful piece of design, but only achieved middling reviews and remains fairly rare on UK roads in comparison to the competition.
The MiTo (named after the two cities in which the car is designed and built – Milan and Turin respectively) is a supermini in the same market as BMW’s Mini and Audi’s A1, but lacking the refinement and reliability of either.

Along with the yet-to-be-released, stunning and stunningly-expensive 4C mid-engine sports car – due early 2014 – this is the entire line-up for the company. Hearing that these cars won’t be around past 2015 is somewhat a surprise, then, if not worrying and/or crazy.

Back To The USA

Alfa have a history of taking ages to do pretty much anything. The company has repeatedly failed to bring the brand back to the USA – something which was hinted at when the 8C Competizione was shipped there in limited numbers. Furthermore, the much talked-about 159 replacement (named the Giulia) – designed to take on the dominating BMW 3-series – has taken years to develop, and almost nothing to show for it so far – concerning, given the notion that the car has set to be launched in 2014 (only 4 and a half months away at the time of writing).

There’s also talk of a proposed new Alfa crossover SUV to be based on the same GM platform as Jeep’s recently redesigned Cherokee model (which itself is based on the Giulietta – are you keeping track?) Combined with the well-publicised relationship with Mazda to create the new Spider/MX-5 roadster due 2015, the company has a lot on its hands and I’m not entirely sure they are going to pull it off.

The news keeps coming. The latest rumours spreading around the web include murmurs about the company scrapping the Giulietta and MiTo entirely – instead switching to an all-new line of rear-wheel-drive cars and SUVs, starting with the aforementioned Giulia.

Does this not worry anybody else?

These plans may be no more than a feasibility study, but they have some merit. As Alfa’s parent company Fiat is linked closely with Chrysler, the tech could be developed with their American colleagues – platforms being shared with both Chrysler and Jeep. On the other hand, if a car company struggles so badly with their bread-and-butter task of bringing a car to market, scrapping their current lineup for something entirely new is a risky move.

What’s “Lotus” In Italian?

This all reminds me of a recent high-profile failure in the auto industry: Lotus.

The Hethel company announced a bold move in 2010 to bring no less than six new cars to market (including a new Elan, Esprit and Elise), headed by then-CEO Dany Bahar – a plan which has now been terminated by Lotus’ parent company DRB-Hicom. Only the Evora seems to have made it out of development hell alive.

Lotus Evora Image
The Lotus Evora sports car – part of a 3-car range alongside the Elise and Exige.

Both Lotus and Alfa Romeo have a lot of history and heritage. They both have a die-hard fanbase wishing for them to return to their former glories, and they both have large parent companies to fall back on when times get tough.

Here’s the disclaimer: I know little about the complex world of automotive manufacturing, we deal in financing the vehicles once they are ready to be driven! I also have no insider knowledge that will help me to pass on wisdom about the complex nature of the design and manufacturing process, or the hurdles that need jumping to design an all-new car. But for someone that loves the heritage of the Alfa Romeo brand I find it mind-bending to think that they’re attempting to re-enter one of the biggest markets in the world with an entirely new range of vehicles.

As an outsider looking in, I’m trying to make sense of all the news, rumours and hyperbole coming from multiple sources. I see the heritage of the Italian automaker and wish it could restore itself to the company we all want it to be, but fear that ultimately Sergio Marchionne and company may be biting off more than they can chew.

I look forward to being proved wrong.

What do you think? Should we be less harsh on Alfa, or do you reckon they need a bit of a reality-check? Let us know in the comments below!