Alfa Romeo has confirmed the news first broken exclusively by CAR in July 2013: the Italian brand will make a dramatic shift from front-drive hatches like the Mito and Giulietta, and instead develop a new range of rear- and all-wheel sports saloons, SUVs and sports cars.
Announced in Detroit at Fiat-Chrysler HQ, Alfa Romeo chief technology officer Harald Wester revealed the mantra for the brand includes pushing volumes up from 74,000 sales in 2013, to around 400,000 by 2018. Alfa Romeo is investing around €5bn in the project, the first fruits of which will be the new Giulia saloon, a 3-series rival that will go on sale in autumn 2015.
Read our scoop of Alfa's strategy here
So Alfa Romeo is going back to its roots with rear-wheel drive cars?
That’s right. Alfa Romeo is developing what it claims will be a ‘best-in-class rear-wheel- and all-wheel-drive architecture’ and it’ll be flexible enough to underpin Giulietta-sized hatchbacks, sports saloons to rival the 3-series and 5-series, and a range of SUVs too. Four- and six-cylinder petrol and diesel engines will power the new range of Alfas, with the first (the Giulia) going into production in the second half of 2015, and a total of eight new products to be launched by the end of 2018.
What’s coming from Alfa after the new Giulia saloon in 2015?
The Giulia will be the first Alfa to use the new rear- and four-wheel drive platform, but between 2016 and 2018 there’s a raft of new product following it. There’ll be a Sportwagon estate version of the Giulia; a 5-series rival (with an estate expected to follow); two SUVs thought to be rivals to the X1 and X3; and a new sports car. The latter isn’t though to be a new Spider, as Alfa Romeo’s collaboration with Mazda on the next-gen MX-5 will be rebranded as an Abarth. However, there will be a more expansive range of Cloverleaf models for the Alfa brand.
As for the engines: a pair of turbocharged four-cylinder petrols will cover Alfa’s needs between 100 and 330bhp, a larger six-cylinder will produce between 400 and 500bhp: and a four-cylinder diesel will cover 100-200bhp, and a six-pot oil-burner will develop between 250 and 350bhp depending upon application.
Why should I believe this plan will turn Alfa Romeo around, when others have failed?
Alfa knows we’ve heard its promises before, so this time two senior heads from Ferrari are leading the day-to-day operations of a new ‘skunkworks’ operation which Alfa claims will operate without the interference from the Fiat-Chrysler ‘machine’. There are currently around 200 engineers working on the new Alfas, but that number will treble to 600 by the end of 2015.
Wester stated that Alfa Romeo’s previous models – such as the 159 saloon and estate, 147 hatch and the Brera sports car – didn’t live up to the brand’s core identity. Nor did they make money for the brand, as Alfa’s credibility waned and German rivals swallowed up sales. Wester says that Alfa will not succumb to mass-market ‘conformist’ pressure in its quest for volume, with core values based on five pillars: innovative engines; 50:50 weight distribution; class-leading power-to-weight ratios; unique ‘technical solutions’; all capped with ‘groundbreaking and distinctly Italian design’.
The Giulia will key, marking out how good (or bad) this next generation of Alfa Romeos is, but it’s the 4C sports car that arrived in 2013 that’s supposed to epitomise those values most clearly. And to remind us of that, besides a Spider variant, there’s a more powerful 4C Cloverleaf coming in 2015 too…
>> Does this plan mean a serious comeback for Alfa Romeo, or is it a pipedream? Sound off in the comments section below