The launch of the Alfa Romeo Stelvio SUV at the Los Angeles motor show this month will kick-start a revival plan for the Italian marque that is mapped out to include up to nine new car launches in the next five years – potentially ushering in a rival for the BMW 5 Series, a flagship large SUV and a new sports car. Buoyed by the positive early reception for the 3 Series-rivalling Giulia and with the new Giulia-based Stelvio SUV set to be in dealerships in summer 2017, new boss Reid Bigland is crystallising plans to turn around faltering sales figures and re-energisethe brand with a dramatic series of new model launches -hinged around the SUV boom – to create substantial sales growth by 2020. Bigland, a former head of North America for Alfa Romeo and president of the Ram and Dodge brands, was brought in to head up Alfa and Maserati in May this year, with the express goal from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) group boss Sergio Marchionne of kick-starting Alfa’s latest faltering sales revival.
Despite a €5 billion investment plan being unveiled in 2014, it was set back by two years after technical problems delayed the launch of the Giulia and investment for growth in key markets such as China was not forthcoming. “Our goal is absolutely to go toe to toe with the Germans, but that’s not a two-year plan. We’re just not going to get there that quickly,” said Bigland. “They’re in every segment and spinning derivatives off those segments. “Even with the new [Stelvio] SUV, we will only have 50% coverage of the market. We need to pick our strategy and get it right. We have one chance to make the best possible car with every launch.”
The turnaround is much needed but has Marchionne’s backing because it is also potentially highly lucrative. Alfa’s annual sales in the modern era peaked at just over 200,000 cars in 2001 but have since slid dramatically, as the model line-up has contracted and aged, to a current level of barely 60,000. However, the launch of the Giulia has created a potentially lucrative foothold in the premium brand heartland and the arrival of the Stelvio will drive profits further, because SUVs command a higher sticker price than traditional saloons.
Family of new SUVs – The Stelvio SUV – which is yet to be officially named but which Marchionne referred to by this name12 months ago under questioning – will be a rival for the likes of the BMW X3 and Audi 05.
Speaking to Autocar, Bigland refused to be drawn on whether the Stelvio name would make production-Kamal has also been strongly rumoured – but he outlined why it will stand out from its rivals. “The reason people will buy our mid-sized SUV is because they will get blown away by the driving dynamics,” he said. “Every car Alfa makes must stand apart for that reason. This car will not disappoint.” It is expected to be pitched as a dynamic competitor to the Jaguar F-Pace and Porsche Macan, priced from around £40,000 and powered by a range of familiar four and six-cylinder diesel and petrol engines.
To emphasise the SUV’s sporty credentials, a twin-turbo 2.9-litre V6-powered Quadrofoglio version is being prepared. Bigland also hinted that a larger SUV is likely to make production as part of Alfa’s five-year plan. “The whole world is gravitating to SUVs,” he said. “A few years ago, an Alfa SUV would have been sacrilegious, but now it makes perfect sense. Our job is to keep an eye on consumer preferences and give people what they want.” It is understood the large SUV could be based on the same underpinnings as the Maserati Levante and appear in early 2018 as a BMWX5 and Audi 07 rival. Again, it would be pitched on its dynamic capabilities, which, Bigland conceded, would rule out a utility-focused seven-seater. “Whatever car Alfa Romeo makes must stand apart for its agility, noise and general driving experience,” he said. “A large SUV can work in that space – the Maserati Levante proves that – but it’s a five not seven-seater.”
The large SUV’s success or otherwise is said to be fulcrum on which Alfa’s latest revival plan will hinge. That’s because it will be a relatively high-profit car that could underpin future investment in other models and because accelerating growth in the SUV market could prompt Alfa to put off development of a larger saloon than the Giulia. Asked if an SUV could be Alfa’s halo model, potentially displacing the launch of a 5 Series rival, Bigland said: “Ten years ago I’d have said we need the saloon to credibly take on the Germans. Now, the explosion in SUV sales changes that. I’m not saying we won’t do the saloon, but it might not be next on the list.” Additionally, one further SUV bodystyle is said to be under consideration, probably for launch at the end of the decade. Potentially, it could be a coupe version of the Stelvio -in the style of the BMWX4-but rumours persist that if the Giulietta hatchback is replaced, a BMW X1 rival would also be spun off the platform.
Expanding the saloon line-up – The next new production model expected after the Stelvio is tipped to be a Giulia estate. It is slated to be shown at the 2017 Geneva motor show and insiders say the design team has been charged with prioritising a sporty look over a need for class-leading luggage space. However, it will not be as dramatically proportioned as the Alfa 159 Sportswagon, which had less boot space than the saloon in certain seat configurations. Benchmarking is reported to have centred on the BMW 3 Series Touring. Less clear is whether Alfa will launch a 5 Series rival. It is talked about internally as the Alfa Romeo Alfetta as a nod to the saloon and fastback of the 1970s and 1980s, and launch plans are said to have been drawn up to an advanced stage.