Automotive News said:Will Alfa Romeo 4C bypass Fiat stores?
Fresh questions raised about brand's U.S. return
Alfa Romeo CEO Harald Wester's revelation last week that the brand's 4C sport coupe is heading to Maserati showrooms next year raises new questions about Alfa Romeo's future in the United States.
"Most likely, the Alfa 4C will be sold in the U.S. through the Maserati network," Wester, who also is Maserati's CEO, told Automotive News in an e-mail on Thursday, Sept. 26.
Many struggling Fiat dealerships are awaiting the 4C and other Alfa Romeos. But while Wester's revelation may be a blow to Fiat dealers, it raises more questions such as: Will the 4C also be sold at Fiat dealerships? And where will high-volume Alfa Romeos planned for the United States be sold - at Fiat dealerships, Maserati stores or both?
Wester and chief Chrysler spokesman Gualberto Ranieri declined to address the issues.
Fiat executives have said they will sell the Alfa Romeo Giulia mid-sized sedan, Giulietta compact and other Alfa Romeos in the United States in the coming years.
Fiat dealers never received a letter of intent or an outright promise for a future Alfa Romeo franchise, but Chrysler-Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne did acknowledge the expectation. He said Alfa Romeo needed Chrysler's help if it was to successfully return to the United States, which it left in 1995.
Alfa Romeo and Maserati are fully owned subsidiaries of Fiat S.p.A. of Italy. Fiat also owns 58.5 percent of Chrysler.
Between 2008 and 2010, U.S. Maserati dealers sold about 100 units of the 8C Competizione coupe and 8C Spider. Both cost more than $200,000.
Wester, who also is Fiat-Chrysler's chief technical officer, declined to say when the 4C will debut in the United States, confirming only that the car will go on sale before the end of the second quarter of 2014.
The $55,000 lightweight, mid-engine sports car is intended to rival the Porsche Cayman.
The 4C features a lightweight carbon fiber chassis and a reinforced plastic body. The U.S. version weighs about 2,200 pounds, about 220 pounds more than the European version because of different requirements to meet federal crash standards.
4C shipments were to be limited to about 1,500 units annually.
Asked in January 2012 about struggling Fiat dealerships and the botched U.S. launch in 2011 of the Fiat 500, Marchionne all but married Alfa to Fiat dealerships.
"The red is not accidental on the sign, believe it or not," Marchionne said. Red is Alfa Romeo's brand color.
He said the Fiat launch was "the cheapest way to learn how to manage Alfa. If you think you can launch Alfa here without Chrysler Jeep Dodge behind you, you're whistling Dixie. You need the machine."
And at this year's National Automobile Dealers Association convention in Orlando, Peter Grady, Chrysler's vice president for network development and fleet, all but guaranteed Alfa Romeos in at least some Fiat dealerships.
"The 4C is the first vehicle that comes [to the United States from Alfa Romeo] at the end of this calendar year, and it's going to go to the current Fiat dealers that are performing," Grady told Automotive News.
Gary Brown, chairman of the National Chrysler Dealer Council and the owner of a Fiat dealership on Long Island, said he had heard rumors for about a month that the 4C would go to Maserati stores.
He said: "We might have to think about how our future's going to be as Fiat dealers."