Even though FCA US sold a mere 407 units in 2017, the 4C will be updated, not axed

Even though FCA US sold a mere 407 units in 2017, the 4C will be updated, not axed

FCA is the latest OEM to have its current and future models put under the microscope for examination. The first brands in this series were Fiat and Abarth, followed by Chrysler, Dodge and Ram. Features on Jeep, Maserati and Ferrari are still to come.

Last year, FCA Italy built more than 100,000 Alfa Romeo vehicles, a huge improvement over 2017 yet a long way short of the infamous 400,000 cars by 2018 goal. The target was not abandoned. Instead, it was pushed back by two years. How realistic is this now looking? Something dramatic may happen - production in North America or China and a couple of extra models which take off quickly - so it shouldn't be laughed off. The division does have a hard task ahead, though, even getting to the quarter of a million mark.

Exports to China are running at the rate of about 500 vehicles a month.

One of the biggest problems for Alfa is the US market. The Giulia is a good car, and the Stelvio is a terrific first effort at an SUV. What is needed now are more models. Especially SUVs and further ahead, electrified vehicles. Even if sales were doubled in 2018, that would still be fewer than 25,000 cars. The challenge is therefore a major one.

As for China, FCA hasn't stated any plans about local production, and Alfa doesn't have the overseas reputation for excellence which allows Lexus and Porsche to be so successful as import-only brands. At the moment, exports are running at the rate of about 500 vehicles a month. That's not even half the annual volume of results from the USA, themselves quite disappointing.

It's going to take Fiat Chrysler many years to establish Alfa Romeo as a make with the needed large range of vehicles, each of which needs to command high pricing. It can be done - look at the demand for the 8C supercar a decade ago and what those cars are now worth. For that to happen, there needs to be Audi-style consistency in everything that Alfa does.

FCA's CFO Richard Palmer claims that Alfa Romeo is no longer sustaining losses. That might not sound like much of a boast for any supposed luxury brand. In the case of this marque, it's a big achievement. Adding extra crossovers and SUVs is what now needs to happen for Alfa to finally begin generating big cash numbers for reinvestment. Past 'savings' from sudden, major cost cutting programmes, a false-economy in every case, must also become a strategy that is binned.

FCA will host its next investors' briefing and public discussion of future models in May.

Leaving cars in production for way too long, and then axing them with no replacement has to be something which never again happens. Apart from the lack of an estate, one of the main reasons for the Giulia taking so long to establish itself was the brand's perplexing absence from the D segment for years.

Currently, the Mito and Giulietta are beyond the stage in their lifecycles at which they should have been replaced, while the 4C is fast and gorgeous but too expensive and compromised in ways which the Porsche 718 cars are not.

We haven't heard much from FCA in some time about what it now wants Alfa Romeo to be. That may not change until 1 June, which is when the group will host its next investors' briefing. The best thing which could come out of that would be under-promising and then, during this next five-year plan, over-delivering. That applies equally to sales and model range expansion claims, year-by-year.

B segment (Sub-compact)

A Fiat Punto-based hatchback replaced the three-door Alfa 147 almost a decade ago. Build at what was then Fiat Auto's Mirafiori plant started in June 2008. Originally MiTo but since changed to Mito, the model name is a contraction of Milano and Torino: Alfa Romeo and Fiat's home cities.

A five-door car would be launched in 2013 and also exported to North America, Fiat Group stated in April 2010. Yet like the Giulietta estate and so many other models, that car never made production. Had it done, Alfa's overall volumes could have been significantly higher. The success of the Audi A1 Sportback proves that point.

Fiat left the Mito on the market without a styling refresh for more than five years. The first facelift premiered at the 2013 Frankfurt IAA, and there was a second round of again minor changes in 2016. After a debut at the Geneva show, the latest Mito went on sale during the second quarter of that year.

The Mito is not expected to be replaced.

For reasons unknown, FCA is not expected to replace this car. Production is likely to end in July.

C segment (Compact)

The Giulietta, which was meant to be an Audi A3 Sportback rival, was the first vehicle on Fiat Group's C-Evoluzione platform, also known as 'Compact'.

The car's architecture is a development of a components set first seen in the Fiat Stilo. It was heavily modified with new front and rear suspension systems and is also distinguished by being compatible with all-wheel drive applications (though the Giulietta is front-drive only).

Originally thought to be called 149 and due for launch in 2009, the car premiered at the Geneva motor show in March 2010. The Milano name was revealed by Chrysler LLC in February 2009 but Fiat later changed it: 'Giulietta' was announced in December 2009.

A slightly updated Giulietta premiered at the Frankfurt motor show in September 2013. As well as new alloy wheels and upholstery, there were darkened headlamp filters (formerly exclusive to the QV) and a new grille, while the former 140hp 2.0-litre diesel was replaced by a 150hp MultiJet II unit. In additional, all 1.4 turbo petrol engines became Euro 6 compliant. The QV was not part of the facelifted range, but a revised Giulietta Quadrifoglio Verde did then appear at the Geneva motor show in March 2014. It went on sale across Europe two months later.

Another minor facelift for the Giulietta had its public debut at the Geneva motor show in March 2016.

Production is likely to end in late 2018. All build has always been at Cassino. This plant is in the town of Piedimonte San Germano, three kilometres from Cassino, in the province of Frosinone.

The Alfetta should go into production at the end of 2018.

The Giulietta successor - it may revive the Alfetta model name - should go into production at the end of 2018. FCA is expected to sell two bodies, aiming to create rivals for the Audi A3 Sportback and A3 Sedan, plus their S and RS variants. One major difference will be rear- and all-wheel drive, however.

There may also be an electric hatchback but probably not until the time of a facelift in 2022. Alfa Romeo might also export the Giulietta replacement to North America, which wasn't the case with the first generation model.

D segment (Mid-size)

A replacement for the Alfa 159 - discontinued in early 2011 - took more than five years to enter production. Yet, there is no wagon version of the Giulia. This is an incredible state of affairs when the brand needs to show it is relevant in Germany and the UK. The Giulia wagon had been due to be released during 2017 but for reasons which FCA has never fully explained, the project was cancelled.

Alfa has a long, long way to travel before it can be thought of as being a competitor to the German Big three, Volvo, Land Rover and even Jaguar, and that's just in Europe. Having said that, Alfa's only sedan has received good reviews from the media for its dynamics and it is selling well in some countries.

There is a mountain to climb, but as Audi was determined to steadily prove, the underdog can eventually grow even bigger than the ones who used to bark the loudest. That takes decades though.

Series production of the Giulia did not commence at the Cassino plant in Italy until April 2016. The first cars were delivered to owners in Italy in late June 2016.

A 350hp 2.0-litre petrol engine should be added to the Giulia range later in 2018.

FCA US told the media at November 2015's LA auto show that the Giulia Quadriofoglio would be "arriving" there in the summer for the 2017 model year. There is also a 276hp 2.0-litre MultiAir2 engine in North America with the choice of rear- or all-wheel drive. The Quadrifoglio was offered first, priced from US$70,000.

Cars with four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines did not appear until the Geneva motor show in March 2016. At the same event, Alfa Romeo announced that the sedan would be available at launch in three model grades: Giulia, Super and Quadrifoglio and with up to six engine choices: 150 and 180 HP 2.2-litre diesel with 6 speed manual or 8 speed automatic transmission, 200 HP 2.0-litre petrol engine with 8 speed transmission and 510 HP 2.9-litre V6 BiTurbo petrol engine with 6 speed transmission. A 210hp diesel and the 276hp petrol unit were added in late 2016.

A prototype of Progetto 152 had been revealed at a media event on 24 June 2015, to mark the 105th anniversary of Alfa Romeo. The car's public debut was at the Frankfurt IAA in September 2015. FCA revealed only a handful of facts about the car in June 2015 and almost all of these concerned the range-topping Quadrifoglio. The four-leaf clover, which is powered by the 380kW (510PS) V6 petrol turbo engine fitted with cylinder deactivation, is said to accelerate to 100km/h in 3.9 seconds.

The 4,643mm long Giulia is claimed to have 50/50 weight distribution and is available with rear- or all-wheel drive. The propshaft, roof and bonnet on the low-volume/high-price Quadrifoglio are carbon fibre; aluminium is used for the engine, brakes, suspension, doors and wings; and the rear crossmember is made of aluminium composite and plastic; while the brake discs are carbon ceramic.

As Alfa Romeo has not been a competitive brand in this segment since the early years of the 156 way back in the 1990s, the Giulia is being built in only modest numbers - probably even fewer than the similarly sized Jaguar XE sedan.

A 350hp 2.0-litre petrol engine is expected to be added to the range later in 2018. After this, a facelifted line-up should appear in 2020. The next Giulia, which will use an evolution of the current car's Giorgio platform, is due to be launched in the final quarter of 2023.

E segment (Executive / Large) 

Reid Bigland has not ruled out a large four-door car but he down-plays the idea.

Reid Bigland, who heads up Alfa Romeo, has not ruled out a future large four-door car but he sensibly down-plays the idea. Alfa Romeo has many other more urgent priorities than trying to take on the German brands in this segment. Lexus (GS), Infiniti (Q70 & L) and Jaguar (XF & L) have only limited success, while the Volvo S90 is doing OK but nothing more than that.

Reflecting on just how tough the Executive/Large sedan and wagon segment is for brands other than Audi, BMW and Mercedes, perhaps it might be better for FCA to leave Maserati's Ghibli unchallenged as the Group's sole entry in this class. Its sales might not be in the tens of thousands, but at least the car is able to command high prices.

It's equally hard to envisage an Alfa going up against the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Lexus LS. FCA will be watching with close interest when Jaguar pushes the button to fire up its BEV-only strategy for the next XJ. With the existing model selling at way under 10,000 units a year, an XJ which runs on energy stored in batteries might even improve upon that car's sales performance. 

Rather than push Alfa into the F segment for full-sized luxury sedans and hatchbacks, FCA will likely consider electrifying the next Maserati Quattroporte after seeing if consumers take to BEVs from other premium-priced brands. How the future electric four-door Porsche does in the marketplace is key.

Crossovers & SUVs

A compact SUV sized midway between the Audi Q3 and Q5 had been planned some years back but the project was delayed and delayed. This model would have been co-developed alongside the Jeep Compass and built in either Mexico or Brazil. 

A business case can be made for an Alfa C-SUV but FCA's priorities for Alfa Romeo at the moment centre on rear- and all-wheel drive models. Vehicles based on the CUSW platform do not appear to be something which the company wants for Alfa Romeo. Why this should be the case when few buyers even know which axle is sending the majority of their car's power to the road, is a mystery. 

The world's most successful premium brand has only one RWD car, the R8, in its vast range of models, while BMW's best seller in Germany is the front-wheel drive 2 Series. FCA appears to have overlooked these facts in its zeal to embrace the apparent 'purity' of rear-drive vehicles. That the FWD Mito and Giulietta are such weak sellers is due almost entirely to their age and lack of development - where were the additional engines, sports variants and bodystyles which could have kept these cars selling briskly?

Sergio Marchionne says there will be be two more Alfa Romeo SUVs

The most recent official information concerning the C-SUV project came from Sergio Marchionne. Speaking at Fiat Chrysler's Balocco test track in Italy in February 2017, FCA's CEO stated that two more SUVs were under development. One will be above the Stelvio, which was not news, but one below the brand's only current SUV was something which had been known prior to this announcement.

The compact SUV would logically be based on the similarly sized Giulietta replacement. Its release probably won't take place until late 2019.

Project 949, the Stelvio SUV, which became available in 2017, is built on the same line as the closely related Giulia at Cassino.

The vehicle's public debut was in 510hp Quadrifoglio form at the LA auto show in November 2016. At 4,687mm long, it is slightly shorter than the Porsche Macan.

As well as the 2.9-litre Ferrari-derived biturbo petrol V6, there is one other petrol engine: a 206kW (280hp) 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol turbo which produces 400Nm of torque. Both engines are linked to a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission. There is also a 2.2-litre diesel for European countries and certain other markets.

While the Stelvio Quadrifoglio shares its engine with the Giulia Quadrifoglio, there is one major difference: the sedan is rear-wheel drive only. However, the Stelvio four-leaf clover is mostly rear-wheel drive but drive is sent to the front axle when slippage is detected.

Stelvio production commenced in May 2017. Europe-wide sales commenced during the following month and the Stelvio became available in the USA during July 2017, new for the 2018 model year. The Quadrifoglio (biturbo V6) did not go on sale until November 2017 and early 2018 in the USA.

There should be a facelift for the Stelvio range in 2021. The next Stelvio is due in 2024 on an updated version of the Giorgio platform.

The 'Dolomiti' could well have its public debut at the Geneva motor show in March.

Speaking at the Frankfurt motor show in September 2011, Sergio Marchionne told the media that a large SUV for Alfa Romeo was in the planning stages.

As per the Ferrari V8-powered car which eventually became the Levante, the big Alfa 4x4 would have been derived from the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Since then, the Maserati became bigger and changed platforms but kept the Ferrari engine. Sort of - the V8 became a V6. It finally reached production in 2016.

The 5,003mm long Levante was developed to take on the Porsche Cayenne's domination of its segment. Will Alfa Romeo be given a similarly sized SUV? At the moment, the answer is yes but such a vehicle's path to production has been, to be polite, confusing.

In November 2010, Fiat Group CEO Sergio Marchionne appeared to contradict his own future model plan document that had been publicly shared with analysts earlier in the year. He stated that a new, big SUV for Alfa Romeo was likely to be based upon the Jeep Grand Cherokee and built alongside that model in the USA. Previously, Alfa's large 4x4 was said to be under development on Fiat's D-Evoluzione platform and not due for launch until 2014.

Harald Wester, the then CEO of Alfa Romeo, reportedly told analysts at a conference in Frankfurt in September 2011 that the large SUV had been cancelled. However, a large 'SUV' was listed on a slide showing basic details of future models for Alfa Romeo at FCA's Investors' Briefing in May 2014.

At the moment, the project is officially revived: a production model would appear "in 2017 or later", FCA announced at a press conference in January 2016. It could well be that this model ends up being closely related to the Maserati Levante. Should that be the case, it would not then use the Giorgio architecture.

Maserati's SUV is almost identical in size to the Porsche Cayenne, so Alfa's model should also be about five metres in length. As for the name, this seems guaranteed to be an Italian word with links to either motorsport or a place associated with roads which appeal to enthusiast drivers. FCA was careful to do this for Alfa's first SUV. Perhaps its big brother will be called Dolomiti. That would be in reference to the Grande Strada delle Dolomiti, a spectacular road with views of those mountains.

If FCA is using the Quattroporte/Ghibli platform to develop the Dolomiti, that would mean a big Alfa SUV could be in production at Mirafiori on the same line as the same size Maserati Levante as soon as 2019. However, an Italian union source claimed in early 2017 that the E-SUV would be manufactured at Mirafiori commencing in the first half of 2018. The Dolomiti could well have its public debut at the Geneva motor show in March.

Roadsters

Despite being a rarely seen model, FCA will continue to have the 4C in the Alfa Romeo line-up.

In theory, the 4C has it all: good looks (after the original headlights were restyled), fantastic handling and roadholding, great acceleration and a rev-happy engine which makes great noises. In practice, the car is ridiculously expensive, cramped and difficult for many potential owners to get in and out of. It is also one of the few vehicles on the market which does not have power steering. That's great for Sunday mornings on empty country roads but not exactly ideal in the city traffic conditions where most test drives have to take place.

The sub-4m long but 2m wide mid-engined 4C entered initial production in mid-2013, its lightweight chassis being outsourced to Adler Plastic.

The sales release in North America was delayed until 2014 and RHD build did not get underway until the fourth quarter of that year. These mistakes, plus the issue of pricing meant that many buyers in the two potentially strong markets of the USA and the UK lost interest in having to wait so long and bought something else. There is also the fact that the car for North America has an extra 100kg of weight, though it is still commendably light.

The US-spec 4C has aluminium inserts within the carbon fibre chassis. Federal regulations meant a modified structure was needed to absorb different impact forces. The monocoque and the front and rear frames are different, the suspension is reinforced and suspension tuning is bespoke.

In an attempt to redress disappointing sales, a targa bodystyle became available in 2015. The 4C Spider has a removable canvas top held in place by folding carbon fibre bars. Unlike this standard-fit roof, an optional carbon removable hardtop is too big to be stored in the boot. As with pricing, ease of driving, and accessibility, this is a basic error which Porsche avoided by giving the far cheaper 718 Boxster a no-hassles electric soft top.

FCA US slashed Fiat prices for the 2017 model year in an attempt to revive collapsed sales. Fiat Chrysler had hoped to sell 25,000 cars worldwide over a seven-year lifecycle but this was wildly optimistic. Looking on the bright side for savvy collectors, the little Alfa positively screams future classic, given its rarity.

Despite being a rarely seen model, FCA will continue to have the 4C in the Alfa Romeo line-up. A facelift is due to appear in the third or fourth quarters of this year. The car will also have revised suspension and steering systems. A replacement model seems iffy at this point.

A theoretical 6C could be evolved from the future Maserati Alfieri.

The project to develop a second sports car is said to have started afresh, but at the moment, the business case appears to be questional, especially given the failure of the 4C.

The theoretical 6C could be evolved from the future Maserati Alfieri. The Alfa would have its own engine(s) and be more expensive. Production volume would likely be a thousand or so per annum. Development of prototypes is said to be advancing with a pre-production car supposedly to be a world premiere at a motor show within the next year or two.

A better idea than replacing the 4C with another way too expensive Lotus Elise-style model would be to come up with a follow up to the breathtaking (to look at and to hear) 8C.

Just as the NSX is giving Acura a much needed halo effect in the same way that the LFA did for Lexus, Alfa could really do with a proper supercar. Using the next Maserati GranTurismo and GranCabrio as the basis makes a lot of sense. That way a new 8C could be on the market in 2020 with numbers limited to a few hundred a year and pricing at around the 200,000 euro level. 'Alfa Romeo, by Ferrari' on the engine cover of a V8 would guarantee a sky-high price.

Some will of course scoff at these ideas as irrelevant yet FCA hopefully has its eyes and wallet open wide for the re-entry to Formula 1 and the rumoured return to IndyCar. Not to put too fine a point on it, last time around, these were disastrous forays. That cannot be repeated: failure is not an option. A small range of sports cars and supercars could certainly lend the project some added credibility.

EVs? PHEVs? Fuel cell vehicles?

FCA has no official plans for any electric or plug-in hybrid Alfas and the company has been very public about its lack of enthusiasm for models powered by hydrogen. R&D for the latter isn't cheap and while Fiat Chrysler continues to be saddled with a large amount of debt, don't expect to see any money going into fuel cells.

How can Alfa Romeo be a serious player in the premium segment without EVs and PHEVs? In short, it can't. FCA eliminating its structural debt and moving to building the cash pile which it has long promised "in 2018" may well happen. Alfa Romeo should be first in the queue for a big tranche of fresh cash to develop the vehicles which it will need so as to properly compete with the German Big Three, Volvo, Porsche, Range Rover, Lexus, Infiniti, Acura and Jaguar.

Alfa will likely offer PHEV versions of the Giulia and Stelvio in limited numbers, mainly for California. A fully electric model will have to wait for the release of the Giulietta successor, which as noted above, should be available in four- and five-door forms. The 'Alfetta-e' would be sold mostly in Nordic markets plus California, the Netherlands, France, the UK and possibly China. By the time it goes on sale, Germany too might be a country where EVs could become modestly popular.

Future model plan reports for other manufacturers can be viewed in the OEM product strategy summaries section of just-auto.com.

Future product program intelligence

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