Deep Dive: All roads lead to…Toledo

Never mind the numbers. Sergio Marchionne, master of ceremonies at Fiat and Chrysler, adjusts them as he moves along the steep and winding road to promised prosperity. He continued to predict 500,000 Alfa Romeo sales for 2014 until September, when Harald Wester, CEO for Alfa and Maserati, felt compelled to lower the target to 400,000 units — still a massive 150 percent increase over the disappointing 2011 results. To reach this goal, the Italians have an ambitious new product rollout. After several fits and starts (see sidebar), Alfa insists it’s finally committed to — and is in fact counting on — a return to the U.S. market.

The U.S. relaunch starts in early 2013, when Alfa will bring over two subcompact hatchbacks along with a new crossover (illustrated at left) that will be produced in Toledo, Ohio, by Jeep alongside the next Compass. One of the subcompacts will be a face-lifted version of the two-door MiTo, which hasn’t quite succeeded as a MINI Cooper fighter in Europe. The other will be a totally new four-door hatchback. Of course, Alfa is known best in the United States for stylish rear-wheel-drive sports cars. It will live up to that reputation with the production version of the 4C mid-engine sports car, which will also appear in 2013.

Things really heat up in 2014, when the new Giulia sedan (above) and wagon enter the tough mid-size segment. Last but not least, the Giulietta hatchback is due for a face-lift in 2014 and will make its U.S. debut, by which point Alfa hopes to be able to fund additional body styles.

Alfa also has a second rear-wheel-drive model in the works — a large sedan developed with Maserati. The luxurious four-door (left) is due to be revealed in (when else?) 2014, with a selection of high-performance four-cylinder engines. Trouble is, Alfa has yet to engineer and build these engines, which are must-have upgrades for other models, too.

On aggregate, Marchionne expects the combined overall sales of Fiat and Chrysler to soar from 4.2 million to 5.9 million units by 2014. Even bolder is the assumption that operating margins are going to triple to about 7.5 percent. It will probably take more than one major miracle to make these predictions come true.

Haven’t we heard this before?
Alfa has been plotting a major return to the U.S. market since at least 2006 but has hit several bumps in the road. So far, only a handful of 8C supercars have made it here.

“After an absence of more than a decade from the world’s largest new-car market, [Alfa] plans to return to the States.”

JUNE 2008
“Alfa Romeo’s planned 2009 return to the United States will likely bring four distinctly different models.”

APRIL 2010
“We’re still waiting for a final decision on whether [Alfa] will return to North America.”

JULY 2010
“[Alfa will] launch with the Giulia sedan and wagon in 2012.”

Audi readies the next R8, says “no thanks” to Porsche-developed R5.
Later this year, the Audi R8 will receive a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission in place of the much disliked six-speed R tronic and adopt the improved MMI interface we know from the latest A6. A mild boost in power brings the V-10’s output to 540 hp. This updated iteration won’t be on the streets very long, however, before an all-new model, again based on the Lamborghini Gallardo, debuts in 2014. The most notable change in the otherwise evolutionary design (forecast by our spy illustrator at left) will be the disappearance of the car’s optional carbon-fiber side blades. Instead, Audi will put the material to practical use, namely in the firewall, the transmission tunnel, and the B-pillars. This will provide a stiffer structure and reduce curb weight by more than 200 pounds. A bigger loss will be the gated six-speed manual — the aforementioned dual-clutch automatic will be the only transmission choice. The base V-8 should improve to 450 hp, and the V-10 ups the ante once more to 550 hp before possibly giving way to a more efficient, 600-hp turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8. Meanwhile, the long-running saga over the small, affordable, mid-engine sports cars to be developed by Porsche for itself, Volkswagen, and Audi appears to have reached a dead end, at least for Audi. The brand’s R&D chief, Michael Dick, is on record saying that the new TT, planned for 2014 (and illustrated at right), will become even sportier and that the high-performance TTS and TT RS are going to continue. You don’t need to be a math genius to realize that the gap between a 380-hp TT and a 450-hp R8 is too narrow to accommodate a third sports car (it probably doesn’t help that it would have been developed by Porsche). The TT will ride on one of VW’s next-generation, front-wheel-drive architectures.