Detroit 2014: Marchionne Talks Return Of Alfa Romeo, Future Chrysler Minivans

DETROIT – Alfa Romeo is still scheduled to return to the U.S. with the 4C in the second quarter, and more Alfa models will arrive in calendar year 2015, to be sold both in Maserati and “best performing” Fiat dealers, Chrysler and Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne said in an hour-long press conference at the North American International Auto Show. Marchionne, who has just re-signed to lead the Italian-American automaker for three more years, also confirmed there will be no Dodge version of the new Chrysler 200 midsize, front-wheel-drive sedan, though there will be a new Chrysler minivan.

“You almost certainly will not see a Dodge version of the Chrysler 200,” he said. Marchionne confirmed that Chrysler will have a commercial in Super Bowl XLVIII (it probably will be for the new 200), and said that the Super Bowl XLV commercial featuring Eminem, which established the brand’s “Imported from Detroit” tagline with the 2011 Chrysler 200 was “the right commercial, wrong car.”

Ruling out a Dodge version of the 200 doesn’t preclude a long-rumored, though never confirmed midsize sporty Dodge sedan based off a new, shorter rear-wheel-drive platform being developed for Alfa Romeo’s BMW 3- and 4-series competitors and an SRT Barracuda. Rumor is that platform has been held up because Marchionne has not been happy with North American engineering work on it.

The midengine Alfa Romeo 4C, already running around Europe, is scheduled for U.S. import in the second quarter of this year, Marchionne confirmed, with additional product coming in calendar 2015. We know that includes an Alfa Romeo version of the 2015 Mazda Miata, assembled in Hiroshima, Japan, with Fiat engines, though a lineup competing with some BMWs is due shortly thereafter. Marchionne said he doesn’t expect BMW-like volumes for them. The Alfa 4C originally was scheduled for import in late 2013, and there are rumors timing for early this year also has slipped, though apparently not by much.

“We’re not looking to rule the world with our premium strategy,” which also entails Maserati. “I just want a piece of the market. It doesn’t have to be Dieter’s (Mercedes chief Zetsche) share.”

The new Chrysler minivan’s design is “95-percent” complete, will be ready in twenty-four to thirty-six months, and will continue to be built in Windsor, Ontario, Marchionne said.

The chief executive officer spoke about the value of both Jeep and of Alfa Romeo to the automaker. Jeep will unveil a new b-segment model early this year, based on a Fiat platform, to be sold worldwide.

“It will not be called the Jeepster,” he said. The new model’s name remains a corporate secret. The model is intended to expand Jeep’s reach into Western Europe as well as emerging markets such as China, including localized production.

The production location for two of Chrysler’s most profitable Jeep models will remain sacrosanct, however.

“As long as I’m around, the Wrangler will not be made anywhere else” than the Toledo plant, Marchionne said. Workers at that plant have stepped up to meet all of Chrysler’s demands for production, which has been running at capacity.

“I will forever be grateful to the people of the Toledo plant” for doing what Chrysler has asked of them, he said. Marchionne said the Jeep Grand Cherokee’s Conner Avenue plant in Detroit also is sacrosanct for that model.

With a preponderance of business reporters in the audience, Marchionne took a lot of questions about his continuing future at Fiat and Chrysler, and about the process of melding the two companies together. The board will meet at the end of January to determine how to approach a listing of the company – “both Fiat and Chrysler will be in” the name — on a U.S.-based exchange. Fiat-Chrysler will not list any additional shares, however.

As a global automaker, the question of whether Auburn Hills, Michigan, or Turin, Italy, becomes the single headquarters is a moot point, he said.

What’s his preference for an HQ location? “I prefer to live on a plane,” he answered.