Latest Alfa Romeo delay spooks Fiat dealers
September 19, 2011
Another delay in Alfa Romeo's scheduled return to the United States has surprised and disappointed Fiat dealers counting on the sporty Italian cars to bolster their new franchise.
Alfa Romeo CEO Harald Wester said last week that three of the brand's U.S.-bound models will be delayed and a fourth will be canceled.
Fiat's 130 U.S. dealers never were explicitly promised Alfa models as part of the Fiat franchise. But Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne told them in August 2010 they were likely to get the brand.
Alfa Romeo would provide sporty premium vehicles to augment the dealers' only current offerings: coupe and 500C convertible versions of the Fiat 500.
"Right now I'm pretty disappointed because I have a pretty big investment in Fiat," said Carl Galeana, owner of Fiat of Lakeside in suburban Detroit and a member of the Fiat Advisory Committee, the dealer council. "I built my store predicated on the fact there would be more than Fiat."
The CEO of a large dealership group that owns a Fiat store said: "This delay is not positive for dealers who have invested and committed to the Fiat franchise." The executive asked not to be named.
Galeana said Fiat officials had not said anything to dealers about the latest holdup.
Alfa Romeo is the second stage of Fiat Group's strategy to relaunch its Italian auto brands in the United States. Fiat began selling 500s in March, and Alfa vehicles were to have arrived in late 2012.
Most Fiat dealers also have Chrysler dealerships, but Fiat required the dealers to apply for a separate franchise agreement. They were allowed to build temporary facilities in their existing Chrysler stores but were required to erect separate, permanent facilities by the end of 2012, when Alfa was originally scheduled to arrive.
Fiat has 102 stores open in the United States, and 28 more are scheduled to open before year end.
Many dealers say they were counting on Alfa to broaden their range of offerings to include cars that would compete with European luxury makes.
New target: 2014
Alfa Romeo's Giulia mid-sized sedan and wagon, originally scheduled to arrive in 2012, will not arrive until 2014, Wester now says. The Giulia was perhaps the most eagerly awaited model because it would compete against sedans such as the Audi A4 and BMW 3 series.
Also delayed were the Spider two-seat roadster, moved from 2013 to 2014, and a compact SUV that will share the Jeep Compass platform, moved from 2012 to 2013.
The timing of three other vehicles is unchanged: the MiTo subcompact and the 4-C two-seat coupe are due in 2013, and the Giulietta compact is scheduled for 2014. Wester last week introduced a new car to the plan: a large, rear-wheel-drive sedan that will arrive some time after 2014. It will be based on next-generation Maserati Quattroporte.
Plans for a mid-sized SUV to have been built at Chrysler's Toledo, Ohio, assembly plant, alongside the Jeep Liberty, have been canceled. It had been expected in 2014.
Some retailers brushed aside the latest news.
Louis Perez, lead salesperson at Fiat of Portland in Maine, said he was too busy getting his store ready for its Sept. 16 opening to give much thought to Alfa Romeo.
"Most of my customers are just happy with what we have," he said. "Fiat is a stand-alone vehicle anyway, and it works out well. We'll have an Abarth coming," he said, referring to the sporty Fiat 500 model due to arrive early next year.
Lisa Copeland, general manager of Fiat of Austin in Texas, says her customers are focused on Fiat. She has been stampeded with customers wanting to know when they can buy the Abarth.
Copeland said she has taken Abarth deposits from 77 customers.
"The Abarth is going to carry us the whole year," said Copeland, who has been one of the top-selling U.S. Fiat dealers. She also is a member of the dealer council.
Alfa Romeo was last sold in the United States in 1995. Plans to return have been delayed repeatedly since 2000, when Alfa's parent, Fiat, signed a strategic alliance with General Motors.