No. 969
October 24, 2018
 

About The UjianNasional

Peter M. DeLorenzo has been immersed in all things automotive since childhood. Privileged to be an up-close-and-personal witness to the glory days of the U.S. auto industry, DeLorenzo combines that historical legacy with his own 22-year career in automotive marketing and advertising to bring unmatched industry perspectives to the Internet with Ujian-nasional.info, which was founded on June 1, 1999. DeLorenzo is known for his incendiary commentaries and laser-accurate analysis of the automobile business, as well as racing and the business of motorsports. Author. Commentator. Influencer. The Consigliere. Minister of the High-Octane Truth. DeLorenzo is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the business today.

DeLorenzo's latest book is Witch Hunt (Octane Press  ). It is available on Amazon in both hardcover and Kindle formats, as well as on iBookstore. DeLorenzo is also the author of The United States of Toyota.

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Wednesday
Apr112018

A GIANT “WE’LL SEE.”

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. As readers of this website are well aware, I haven’t taken too kindly to the notion that Alfa Romeo, as a brand, can be resurrected successfully with a flip of a switch or a snap of a finger. As much as a certain CEO at FCA would like it to be so, and promised it to be so, the launch of Alfa Romeo back into this market has been a long and painful slog, stumbling out of the gate and ricocheting in fits and starts. The incessant bluster and braggadocio didn’t help, but nonetheless it is a very hard task even under the best of circumstances, and for a brand that has been long moribund in this country it was bound to be particularly difficult. 

So where is Alfa Romeo now? Let’s take a look at March 2018 sales and for the first quarter (thanks to Automotive News for the data). Alfa Romeo sold 22 4C sports cars (54 total for the year so far), 1,284 Giulia sedans (3,085 for the quarter) and 1,270 Stelvio crossovers (2,653 for this year). Yes, minuscule numbers to be sure, although the Stelvio and the Giulia actually outsold the ballyhooed Cadillac CT6 in March.

So, as I said, this is going to take time, but any notions that Alfa Romeo would be selling 70,000 vehicles in the U.S. in 2018 have long been abandoned, succumbing to the cold winds of reality. But progress is indeed being made, and though the glitches and annoyances on early product – even on the hand-massaged press cars – seemed to reaffirm consumers’ misgivings about embracing a brand that never exactly bathed in a glow of a sterling reputation for quality and reliability, Alfa Romeo is present and accounted for here.

The show pony cars that Alfa Romeo operatives provided to the press – the Giulia Quadrifoglio and the Stelvio Quadrigoglio – delivered impressive performance with their 505HP Twin-Turbo V6 engines, but those $80,000- vehicles are not going to determine the fate of Alfa Romeo in this market, just as the lithe 4C sports car wasn’t going to.

No, the real future of Alfa Romeo here in the U.S. is the daily, one-vehicle-at-a-time sales grind. It’s all about convincing consumers that Alfa Romeo vehicles are not only worth a look, but that they’re actually worth considering owning. This is a huge leap for most people, because beyond the flashy advertising for Alfa Romeo going on right now, it means consumers making the effort to go to an Alfa Romeo dealer after stops at Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. But the Italian march-to-a-different-drummer appeal can only go so far in the showroom. Alfa Romeo vehicles have to stand up to intense scrutiny, and they have to provide enough of a driving difference to make consumers even embrace the thought of spending real money on them. And even once those consumers make that leap, those machines have to run flawlessly with no issues, repeat visits to the dealers, or any other problems that can turn into the kind of horror stories that can swallow a brand. Taking all of this into account, Alfa Romeo is up against it in this market. It’s a rigorous 24/7 journey that requires relentless drive and focus, and traction will only come in the smallest of increments. A switch can’t be flipped, and a finger can’t be snapped to make it go any quicker either.

After writing this column for going on nineteen years, it has been hard to watch as mistakes are repeatedly made in this business. It’s as if serial incompetency is handed down on silver platters to the next generation of auto executives and there’s no accrued learning of any kind, certainly not enough to keep those same mistakes from being made. And Alfa Romeo operatives are certainly not immune from the kaleidoscope of pitfalls and missteps that can happen.

Knowing all of this, it has been easy for me to criticize the notion of a rejuvenated Alfa Romeo, especially when you throw in the constant “it won’t be long now” bleating that seems to come with every FCA product initiative. But, and this will be a shock for most, I am about to take the leap to find out about the Alfa Romeo brand for myself.

No, I don’t want to read one more Quadrifoglio review from a racetrack, which counts for not much when you really think about it, and I don’t want to hear another opinion from a journalist who will never own an Alfa for him or herself either. That’s easy, and that has been the conundrum in the car writing game for decades. You write about a car and you move on to the next. You provide opinions and perspective about vehicles you will never drive again let alone own. 

I have my own lingering questions about Alfa Romeo. Is it viable in this market? Does it have a real chance? How does it feel? How does it drive? How is it to live with on a daily basis? There really is only one way to get answers to those questions from my perspective. And it’s not by having an Alfa to drive for a week. So, I am in the process of acquiring a 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti AWD. And no, it isn’t being provided by the manufacturer for a free, long-term test drive. I am engaged in this process like a reader would be – I’ve been to the dealer, I’ve got the lease numbers and I should be driving it today.

Do I need to do this? No, but as critical as I’ve been of FCA through the years, I am going to give the Stelvio a real shot. And I will provide occasional updates in our “On the Table” column. Incredibly enough, it will be only the third Italian car I’ve ever owned. The first was a used ’68 Fiat 850 Coupe, and then there was a new ’80 Fiat Strada, because I worked on the sales training materials for that car. And now, the Stelvio.

I don’t know if it’s a leap of faith, but it’s a leap nonetheless. 

And a giant “We’ll See.” 

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.

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