USA: Alfa to head back to the US
Alfa Romeo has admitted that there will be another attempt to re-launch in the US. This time though, the man making the promise is worth listening to.
Karl Heinz Kalbfell, the brand's new chief executive, should be credible when he makes forecasts about specialist brands in the US. His last job was running Rolls-Royce Motors. Before taking on that BMW subsidiary, he spent twenty years with the German parent group assisting with the task of turning BMW into the world's biggest-selling luxury car brand.
Not since Dustin Hoffman pursued both Mrs Robinson and her daughter - during the epic film the Graduate - in his Alfa Romeo sports car has Alfa had a high profile in the United States. And that was nearly 30 years ago.
Alfa is part of the Fiat Group, an ailing car company in which the ailing GM recently held a 20% stake.
Fiat's European market share has halved in the last 15 years to 8%. Alfa Romeo has remained stubbornly below 200,000 units a year, and Lancia looks like it is heading below 100,000. Only Ferrari is a success - due in part to its huge successes in Formula 1 Grand Prix racing.
"I want to take Alfa Romeo back to North America because it is such an important market. We would though, need to be sure we could afford the investment and we would have to get it right," Kalbfell told Detroit News last week.
Getting it right means two things. One is getting the reliability of the cars up to BMW levels. Italian brands have always had a suspect reputation in that area. The other is getting a top rate distribution network - something that still does not exist in Europe.
With manufacturing and retail both improved, he believes that Alfa sales can double to 350,000 to 400,000 units a year within five years.
Just as with Dustin Hoffman thirty years ago, Alfa is more likely to go for the youth market than for the mature consumer.