GENEVA – A tie-up with Mazda may produce a Miata-based Fiat roadster instead of the long-planned Alfa Romeo roadster, Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne hinted here Tuesday. Or, it may provide both. The usually straight-speaking chief was vague about changing plans for the car during his Geneva auto show press conference.
“I mentioned in Detroit that we have been working diligently on the next phase for Alfa Romeo. It requires a severe rethink of everything we’ve done so far,” Marchionne said. “I can tell you that even from January, since the Detroit auto show, we’ve made significant progress, in terms of some of the architectural choices involved, of the key technical elements going forward.”
Marchionne mentioned a business plan that will be presented in May several times during the hour-long press conference. While it presumably will pick up where the late-2009 Five-Year Plan leaves off, the CEO did not give details of the meeting. Sources say the location has not been determined.
“We will use what we have done with Fiat and Maserati in the United States and NAFTA in general, in terms of introducing Alfa in the market relatively quickly. I’m still hopeful that we will be in production by the end of 2015 with the first vehicle, which is representative of the new Alfas going forward.”
That “first vehicle” will actually be the second to come to North America. Marchionne announced at Tuesday’s Alfa Romeo 4C cabrio press conference that the 4C will be shown at the New York International Auto Show and will go on sale in North America shortly thereafter.
Pressed on whether the alliance with Mazda on its next-generation Miata rear-wheel-drive architecture (a prototype of the car is pictured) is still on, Marchionne said, “It’s potentially part of the Alfa plan, as it’s potentially part of another brand. I mean, I think the architecture itself is sufficiently pliable to be available not just to Alfa, but to others.”
Clarification by a Fiat-Chrysler spokesperson proved no more conclusive. Marchionne has left open the door for another of its brands to share the 2016 Mazda Miata’s architecture, with Fiat engines, though it was not clear that Marchionne is dropping the Alfa Romeo two-seat roadster from the plans. Under the previous plan, Mazda was to assemble the Alfa Romeo sportscar in Yokohama with Fiat-designed engines.
Marchionne spoke of an “indiscretion” on the plans reported Tuesday morning; apparently an Automotive News story indicated the Miata-based Alfa may be off. Fiat and Mazda jointly confirmed the agreement in January 2013.
“There are normal talks going on with the partners,” Marchionne said. “We remain committed to the project. We are committed to using that architecture with our partner.”
Responding to a question on a different topic, Marchionne said he plans to keep the brand’s production in Italy and use its Italian roots to Alfa Romeo’s advantage, as his team has with Chrysler products from metro Detroit. Marchionne has slated Alfa Romeo as one of Fiat-Chrysler’s two global brands along with Jeep and has acknowledged that he will take Alfa Romeo upmarket, as a value-priced BMW competitor. The Italian-American automaker also is developing a compact/mid-size RWD platform on which to base at least two new Alfa sedans, rumored to be in the BMW 3- and 5-series size categories.
Marchionne described Alfa’s heritage: “A rear-wheel-drive architecture, it was incredibly light, it was incredibly good-looking, and it was incredibly powerful. Power-to-weight ratios were unique. Powertrains were exceptional. The cars were truly good-looking. These are all things you need to go back to.”
Meanwhile, Fiat-Chrysler is retrenching on Lancia, which is in the process of discontinuing its Chrysler-based models. If Lancia survives the May business plan meeting, it will be as a small, regional niche brand sold with Fiats and/or Alfas in continental Europe.
Marchionne took responsibility for Alfa’s collective problems, including several delays in its return to the North American market.
“There are a bunch of engineers, both architecture engineers and powertrain engineers, who are working as diligently as possible,” he said. “We need to give them the time to complete the work and present the plan in May and effectively convince you that we’ve learned from our past mistakes with Alfa — not just mine, but from our predecessors. And that the next days of Alfa will be right.”