Alfa Romeo will switch to rear-wheel drive across its entire range. No more MiTos, no more Giuliettas, no exceptions. In close cooperation with Maserati, the Fiat Group´s problem brand is readying four all-new models to challenge the BMW 3- and 5-series as well as X1 and X3, starting in 2016.
When Fiat Auto was in the doldrums, Sergio Marchionne put his cards on the table. To placate investors, government officials, union representatives and the Italian public, the chain-smoking CEO fed analysts every detail from production strategy to product planning. When the financial situation improved, Marchionne´s focus switched from Fiat to Chrysler, and the information flow dried to a trickle. While some elements of the “new formula for a better future,” like Maserati´s ambitious expansion plans or Fiat´s controversial concentration on the 500 and Panda families were communicated with candor, other plans remained confidential.
Alfa Romeo’s roadmap, in particular, is Top Secret. Asked in early June what was required to boost Alfa sales from 100,000 to the forecast 300,000 units a year by 2016, Marchionne said the brand was in the process of reinventing itself. Harald Wester, the German engineer in charge of Alfa and Maserati, added, “Alfa Romeo is currently a construction site surrounded by a tall safety fence so that the boys can work in peace and quiet for the next twelve to twenty-four months.”
From 2016, Alfa will build its cars to a new DNA that hearkens back to the days when all models wearing the trademark scudetto (shield) e baffi (moustache) face were rear-wheel drive.
“Sure, design is important, Italian flair is important, top-notch quality is important,” a Turin source, close to the strategy team, says. “But it is impossible to challenge Audi, BMW and Mercedes if you cannot match the Germans in terms of vehicle dynamics and driving pleasure.”
The past ten years, Alfa had become more of a Fiat satellite, and more recently, Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep were also putting out greedy feelers. Now, Alfa will work closely together with Maserati. Inspired by BMW´s pending 35up architecture (3-series, 5-series and bigger), the Italians intend to create a modular matrix sufficiently flexible to cater to three or four car lines. While this could span from Giulia to Quattroporte, it excludes the mid-engined 4C and the new Spider/MX-5 co-developed with Mazda.
Three sources say these are the four models on which Alfa is basing its hopes:
- Giulia sedan and Sportwagon, aims at 3-series BMW, due in 2015-16
- Alfetta sedan and possible Sportwagon, aims at 5-series BMW, due in 2016-17
- Compact Activity Vehicle, Giulia-based, aims at BMW X1, expected in 2017
- Sports Activity Vehicle, Alfetta-based, aims at BMW X3, expected in 2018
While names and launch dates remain tentative, we understand the first concept car incorporating the new technology will be revealed next year. Rear-wheel drive will be standard on most versions. All-wheel drive with a rear-bias torque split is in many cases an option. The Maserati architecture conceived for Ghibli and Quattroporte will be tapped wherever it makes sense.
The Alfas will be lighter and more space-efficient than recent efforts like 159 and Brera. Aluminum is bound to feature across the range (more so in the Alfetta than in the Giulia), but ultimately it´s the mix that matters, not individual materials. If everything works to plan, Maserati, too, would benefit from significant synergy effects. Like the Quattroporte, which is not dramatically more costly to build than the notably less expensively priced Ghibli, the next GranTurismo/GranCabrio are also going to yield fatter margins. If Wester & friends play their cards right, the brace of upcoming front-mid-engined Maserati sports cars could be re-engineered into a pair of more affordable two-seaters for the Alfa brand.
Rear-wheel drive encourages shorter front overhangs, a design feature typical of the marque for decades. Add to this the longer wheelbase, the trademark four-lite greenhouse, the sculptured flanks accentuated by a full-length crease as well as new LED graphics front and rear, and it’s easy to picture a coherent and unmistakable new form language.
It seems reasonable to assume the Giulia will absorb at least the high-end Giulietta clientele. The MiTo, however, will bite the dust. Although the Alfetta is unlikely to be as large as the originally proposed E segment sedan, it won´t be significantly smaller than the Ghibli either, so there will probably be some overlap and some in-house competition. According to those in the know, there are likely to be four variants of each model: Veloce, Quadrifoglio Verde (Sport), Quadrifoglio Oro (Luxury) and Autodelta (equivalent to the BMW M models).
Rumors from Turin and Modena describe the CAV as sportier, prettier and more passenger car-like than the BMW X1. The bigger SAV is allegedly even more masculine looking, boasting a wider track, larger tires, a tucked in greenhouse and an aerodynamically efficient silhouette. It sounds like a stunning mix between X4 and Evoque. The full-size LAV (Luxury Activity Vehicle) derived from the Levante is no longer a live program.
An alliance with Maserati is a more promising life-saving strategy for Alfa Romeo than the cooperation with Fiat, which was born of necessity, not affection or reason. Instead of repositioning the brand, the new approach has real potential to boost image and credibility by creating much more desirable products. Whether this is also the right road to profitability remains to be seen.