Alfa Romeo readies product offensive

CEO Harald Wester - Alfa Romeo readies product offensive

Alfa Romeo has started development on three new models that will be key to the struggling brand’s turnaround. The cars are a midsize sedan to rival the BMW 5 series, a midsize SUV that will take on models such as the Audi Q5 and a flagship large sedan.

The cars are the first wave of eight new Alfas announced May 6 as part of a €5 billion ($7 billion) investment to boost the brand’s global sales to 400,000 vehicles in 2018 from 74,000 last year.

Alfa and its parent, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, have declined to give specifics on the brand’s upcoming models since the May announcement when Alfa CEO Harald Wester also said the brand will switch to rear- and all-wheel drive configurations from front-wheel drive.

Alfa’s latest future product plan, according to sources:

Midsize sedan: Code-named Project 952, a midsize sedan will be the first of Alfa Romeo’s new products and will target models such as the Audi A6. The sedan is scheduled to debut in European showrooms in mid-2016 and in the U.S. by the end of that year.

Originally due in 2014 badged as the Giulia, this sedan most likely will get a different name. It is a successor to the Europe-only 159 that was discontinued in 2011. On the sedan, Alfa Romeo will debut its new range of gasoline direct-injection engines featuring single or twin turbochargers. Planned are a 2.2-liter inline-four rated from 180 to 330 hp and a 3.3-liter V-6 with output from 400 to more than 500 hp. Meanwhile, two diesels are planned: a 120- to 210-hp inline-four and a 250- to 330-hp V-6.

Midsize SUV: This Audi Q5 rival is set to debut in the second half of 2016, sharing its underpinnings and engine range with the midsize sedan

Large sedan: Alfa Romeo’s new flagship, to rival the Audi A8 and BMW 7 series, will be a large version of the new midsize sedan. It will have powerful versions of the new engine range, but no V-8 is planned.

The timing and complete description of the rest of Alfa’s new range are still open, but here is what has been revealed from sources with direct knowledge of the plans.

4C Spider: Previewed by a concept in March at the Geneva auto show, the roadster version of the low-volume 4C coupe is due by summer 2015. Despite the spider (roadster) name, this 4C variant is actually a targa model, with a small carbon-fiber roof section that has to be manually removed and stored.

Midsize roadster: Alfa is working on a roadster that will use a shortened version of the midsize sedan platform. A smaller roadster based on the new Mazda MX-5/Miata is due to be built by Mazda in Japan starting next year. It was originally planned as an Afla Romeo model but will now be sold with a Fiat badge. The Alfa roadster will offer more engines than the Mazda-based model, which can only accommodate Fiat’s 1.4-liter engine used by the Alfa Giulietta. The larger roadster’s engines will include the turbocharged 1.8-liter inline-four of the 4C coupe and a new 2.2-liter inline-four.

Midsize coupe: This derivative of the midsize sedan will comfortably seat four adults. Still under discussion is the final layout. It will be either a standard two-door coupe to rival the Audi A5 and BMW 4 series or a four-door coupe-stlyed model to compete with the Audi A7 and the BMW 6-series Gran Coupe.

Large SUV: Alfa Romeo has long planned a large SUV, mainly for the United States and China. The production model most likely will be a sibling to the Maserati Levante. which goes into production late next year in Fiat’s refurbished Mirafiori plant in Turin.

Compact hatchback/sedan and coupe: The final models that Alfa Romeo is considering are undecided because of the different needs of various regions. Europe is asking for a five-door hatchback to replace the current fwd Giulietta and a station wagon variant to rival the Audi A4 and BMW 3-series wagons. North America and Asia have smaller markets for compact hatchbacks and wagons, so executives responsible for these markets are pushing for a four-door sedan and a compact coupe.

In the five-year plan unveiled in May, Wester promised that the new Alfa Romeos would share a rwd and awd architecture engineered for various vehicles, including compacts, full-size cars and SUVs. Future Alfas also will have gasoline and diesel engines specific to the brand and a Green Cloverleaf high-performance engine for each nameplate.

A team of more than 300 engineers is working on the new nameplates in Modena, Italy, where Ferrari and Maserati are headquartered. The team is set to double in size to 600 people by the end of next year. Both the chassis and engine bosses are former Ferrari employees.

Currently Alfa sells just three models in Europe: the Giulietta compact, MiTo subcompact and 4C sports car. The brand’s European sales fell to 37,695 from 41,793 in the first seven months, according to JATO Dynamics. With the new models, Alfa will expand to become a global brand with the aim of challenging the premium-market dominance of BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz.

Fiat expects the United States to play a big role in Alfa’s expansion and the company’s business plan sees Alfa’s annual sales in North America at 150,000 vehicles by 2018, up from none last year.