No. 942
April 18, 2018
 

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The Dark Side.

With all of the apparent scheming and subterfuge going on in VW's upper ranks, I have to wonder if Ferdinand Piëch is off in the shadows in a black hooded robe cackling “Everything has gone according to my plan! Something, something, Dark Side…”

Jim Z.
Detroit, Michigan

 

Fond memories. 

Nice column about VW leadership. Like you, I've listened to their pronouncements over the years about how they're going to swarm the American market and have learned to put those in the same file with Tesla production figures. So that's the latest Jetta? Really? Memo to Wolfsburg: Ford called and they want their tooling back from the front end of the 2012 Fusion. As for Italian engineering, you make a solid point about your new car and the typical car reviewer. ("Oh boy, they flew me out to Scottsdale and I get to drive one of these for five days…") I have fond memories of zipping around college in a buddy's Fiat 850 and later dating a woman with a Fiat 124 Spyder coupe. Bliss, or what passed for it in those days. Neither one broke down either, whereas my VW Beetle, uh, not so good.

RM
Grosse Pointe, Michigan

 

Saint Elon's Waterloo.

With the new admission by Saint Elon that humans are actually important to vehicle production after all, I've noticed a fine detail that has been overlooked. If Elon is now acknowledging that a significant portion of the vehicle assembly can't be automated as originally planned, financial impact aside, that means that all of those components were originally designed to be installed by automation will now be assembled by human operators. That means those components likely weren't designed with datums, geometric dimensioning schemes, tolerance stack up, and heck, even easily identified alignment features. Therefore, the humans now charged with assembling these parts are starting with even more challenges than normal, I sure hope they have great manufacturing engineers designing awesome assembly fixtures at the plant. I'm not sure if these cars will ever be right, at least until a significant mid-cycle refresh where errors can be fixed. Let's remember that Tesla skipped the prototype stage and went straight to production tooling (in the supply base, too!). This is going to be a 3-5 year exercise in what not to do. Show me data on vehicle durability and Squeak and Rattle issues on the first 1000 Model 3s built after five years in the field, I literally can't wait.

True Believer X
Detroit, Michigan

 

The UjianNasional goes Cray-Cray.

I can fully understand the sentimental, nostalgic, romantic, irrational force that coerced you to want to drive an Alpha Romeo, and hopefully not a fit of stubborn rebelliousness, even if the model you chose has no connection to the past glory of that brand, but then to go and choose a white one? Oh, the humanity!

Zbig J.
St-Lazare, Quebec

 

VW arrogance.

I think the arrogance shown by VW’s executives who talk but don’t listen is a German characteristic rather than confined or concentrated in one company.

Here’s another example: BMW motorcycles. I’ve been riding them for years and for many years they shifted poorly as did other marques. The Japanese manufacturers went to work and created smooth, easy shifting transmissions. The BMW folks ordered their customers to wear stiffer footwear which did help the shifting but didn’t go over all that well with the way Americans see their relationship with a vendor.

For years now, BMW bikes have had the worst switchgear dedicated to signaling every conceived for any bike. I know no one who likes it. You press forward to start signaling but push a separate control up with your thumb to cancel. Pushing up with a thumb is awkward to say the least, but BMW insists that it knows it’s the best. At least by now, and maybe by accident, the bikes shift well.

I doubt VW will listen to its customers now or anytime. It does produce some great products with my favorite being the Golf GTI, but the greatness isn’t stemming from customer opinion. Beats me where it comes from – maybe whatever dark hole also produced the BMW signaling switchgear.

Paul Cassel
Albuquerque, New Mexico

 

We've seen this movie before, it never ends well.

So Diess is another arrogant, self important, clueless VW president, who's going to force vehicles nobody wants down dealers throats?

Hey everybody! We're getting another Eos!

Infosaur
Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania

 

Going against instinct.

Congrats on the new Stelvio. That's it! I always tell my friends who ask about vehicles to look around and find a few vehicles that meet their needs. Then drive them all. Finally, LOOK at the car because that is what you'll do ever time you are about to drive. If there's no excitement about getting into the vehicle then it's probably the wrong choice, even if it gets better mileage! So for “car/SUV” people, excitement has to be part of the purchase equation and it sounds to me that is what you did, going against instinct and buying something that fits your practical and emotional needs. Regarding the VW thing, who cares? They seem to always shoot themselves in the foot. Looked like Mueller was bringing the company in a good direction and maybe the new guy will do even better but they have always been a fringe automaker in this country without the “drive” to reach the next level here. Weird, since Audi and Porsche have been so successful.

ElliottG
Budd Lake, New Jersey

 

Humorous.

Good rant, you're pretty much on target… as usual… but an Italian guy explaining to a German guy what should be done? Good luck with that, but I for one enjoyed the humor.

Pete D.
Charlotte, North Carolina


 

And so it begins.

I was just thinking that you need to have an “ALFAEXTREMIST” windshield banner made and put it on you Stelvio.

Tuna
Mustang, Oklahoma

 

We Love You Man.

We understand automotive passion. The minions will be here for you w̶h̶e̶n̶ if the Stelvio goes sideways. Looking forward to hearing all about it.

Rick H. 
Lake Stevens, Washington

 

Four Stages of Automotive Life.

Europe represents the four stages of life: First, people are Italian - immature and irresponsible. Then they become French - romantic and insincere. Later they turn into Germans - pompous and arrogant. Finally, they are Belgian and don't know who they are. With a mention of Citroën, Peugeot or Renault in this week's issue you would have achieved an automobile hat trick.

John Page
New Orleans, Louisiana



Elevated.

Belated congrats on the Stelvio! It's telling that you've uh… crossed over to the dark side of elevated ride heights like the rest of the market, but as Porsche faithful have pronounced, a beating heart is sometimes by the the blood that sells. And if it drives like a Guilia under tall wagon skin, well, who doesn't love a factory sleeper? If one measure of honor is to live and die by the sword, respect to you for putting your money where your mouth is.

Tony Lucio
Frankfort, Kentucky



New word.

The word “blandtastic” should be replaced with the word “blendtastic”. All bland designs blend together, therefore blendtastic fits better than blandtastic and isn't that what it's all about these days? Blending in. The change of one vowel makes all the difference!

Phil Hackett
Los Angeles, California
 

 

Hoping for the best.

I hope that fifty years of Italian engineering evolution since your Fiat 850 Coupe hasn’t homogenized the driving experience to a nauseating degree in the Stelvio. I almost bought an 850 Spyder in 1969 after driving a coworker’s 850 Coupe. There was thrill and pride in the challenge of rowing that little speck of a car through the Galaxies and Impalas WFO in every gear, just to keep up. Alas, Richard M. Nixon sent me a curt letter inviting me in no uncertain terms to join the Army and the Spyder never happened.

Chris Blanchard
Prescott, Wisconsin



IndyCar penalties?

Watching the IndyCar race yesterday I'm wondering why the punishment doesn't more closely fit the crime? Rahal's hit to Pagenaud knocked him out of the race and he was only given a drive through. In other series there is a stop and hold or other penalties issued for avoidable , etc. If all that's needed is a new nose or wing that I can understand, but when you take a car out of competition it would seem something a bit more would be in order. The decision on awarding penalties is not usually made swiftly, so taking time to determine if the victimized car can return would not be a cause for concern before deciding on the penalty. 

WG
Shoreview, Minnesota


Over F1.

Formula One It’s either (depending on the day) a “who cares” soap opera or engineering masturbation.

Tucker C.
Richmond, Virginia



That didn't take long.

Do you know if your Stelvio is part of the recently announced recall? This is part of owning any vehicle these days, unfortunately. So, should we expect a report on how Alfa handles the recall and how your dealer performs in terms of service and handling moments of truth with its customers?

Editor-in-Chief's Note: No, it is not... which is good, but then again, it is a giant bowl of Not Good that there is one to begin with. I won't hesitate to report any and all interactions with the dealer. I have a new update up on the Stelvio in "On The Surface."  The next one will not be for a while. -PMD

JAM
Holly Springs, North Carolina

 

This is Formula 1?


Saving fuel – because 105 liters will not last the whole race at full power. Saving the engine – because each engine has to last 7 races and putting in a new one results in a huge, really huge penalty. Saving tires – because they don't last long to start with and you're likely to get only one pit stop in the race. This sound like racing to you? That's the way it is in F1.

Tuna
Mustang, Oklahoma 

Alfa Male.

And I thought I was brave leasing a 300 for my first Mopar since '69 Roadrunner during the 70's -- and first Fiat ever! My experience with both Fiats and Alfas back in the day? Pushing them. Godspeed and good luck. One year in my FCA luck has been good -- I am considering RAM for my next truck.

Bluehillsmike
Lake Holcombe, Wisconsin

 

Alfa dreams.


Hey Peter, good luck with the Alfa. I'm gradually moving from NYC to Umbria, and we're looking online for a used car there. Since we live in the country we have to get a car, because the rentals are financially ruinous. I drive around a lot and it's funny. I haven't seen too many Giulias on the road -- and Umbria is fairly prosperous. But if I see a new Alfa, it's usually a Stelvio, and often a Giulietta hatch. We used to see a lot of Alfas in the left lane passing us. Now it's most often a black Audi A4 or A3, or a VW Golf. Sometimes a Mercedes or BMW. After even Fiat Pandas -- that's probably the best car that Fiat makes. Good luck again, I'm eager to see how it goes.

AP
Valfabbrica, Italy

 

It's about passion.


I always look forward to your rants and disappointed when a new one is not up yet. I have not written to you in years but when you spoke Stelvio I was thrilled. I understand and agree about Sergio and yes, he may eventually destroy Ferrari but I must give him credit for putting a lot of money towards Alfa. I really believed that you saw something in Alfa and yes you have! Again, Sergio is a real pain but your passion for the machine broke through and that is exactly who you are!

John Tacchetti
Woodbine, Maryland 

 

A giant leap.

At the car show, the Alfa SUV, like the Jaguar SUV, broke the bland-tastic glaze. Everything else (XT4; cough-cough) was cut from the same appliance mold. To be sure, Alfa's pricing took BMW as a starting point and went up from there, but there was at least SOME passion in the design. The biggest problem is that, even here in the Green Leafy Burb$, there aren't any Alfa stores, and I've yet to see a single one in the wild, even in towns where you won't have the only Tesla X at the school run.

Casey Raskob, Esq
Green Leafy Burbs, New York City


This might not end well.

They haven't forgotten what they learned in the past, they have used it to engineer and sell cars that last long enough to make it thru a lease. And that's it... If oil prices go up, they are screwed. Good luck with the Alfa. Personally, their lame advertising is not helping them. Lets see whether you will be a return customer or not.

PTG
Detroit, Michigan

 

The Alfa-ness of it all.


Peter, congratulations on the new Stelvio. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed my Giulia for the past 6 months. I had been a big fan of Alfas for many years and had been watching and waiting for their return to the states. Alas, I moved to a small Northern Michigan town a few years ago so the nearest dealer is 2.5 hours away. Rationalization is a powerful tool… it's only a 2-year lease, I said. I never had any problems with my 500 Abarth when I owned it, maybe Fiat/Alfa's reputation is overblown, I thought. As a long-time Alfa fan, if I don't get one of these then they are truly doomed, I believed. Well, so far I'm a happy camper.

Perhaps because I likely have the only one for 100+ miles, the reaction I get to the car is a lot of fun. There seems to be an even split of people who know the brand and ask about it as the “Alfa Romeo? Who makes that?” questions. It also handles the snow just great (AWD with Blizzaks for the winter, of course).

There are definitely some annoying design “quirks,” to the car. There is no way to permanently shut off the annoying start/stop feature. One has to turn it off every time the car is started. The driver's seat automatically moves back every time the car is turned off… again, this would be fine if it could be disabled in settings in some way, but it can't. Again, these are just small annoyances that I'm sure one wouldn't have in a Lexus, but mechanically the car has been great for me. More importantly, I really enjoy owning it and driving it.

Perhaps my experience was limited to the dealers here in Michigan, but I think some of the sales woes must be due to their inventory. My car is white over red, I wanted something a bit more interesting than black or gray. Yet EVERY car in inventory seemed to be black or gray with black interior. I had to search mine out, it was literally the only one I could find that didn't have the all black interior. I just can't believe that Alfa intenders, who are willing to take a chance on the brand and who seek out the limited dealers, want boring colors that blend in with Audis and Toyotas. But again, like Fiat's production mix of loaded automatic 500's at launch, FCA planners got conservative. The inventory I saw sitting stale at the dealer were all black or gray. It sounds silly, but one just doesn't buy an Alfa or a Fiat to blend in. I think Pacifica minivans are commonly found in more exciting colors than what Alfa dealers ordered for stock.

Anyway, I hope their sales improve and they stick around this market for a long time. I look forward to reading updates with yours.

Steve H.
Traverse City, Michigan


Marquez was out of line.

Once again – Thanks for including MotoGP results in your “Horizon” segment. While the MotoGP race Sunday was very interesting,  Marc Marquez is an excellent rider, I believe his actions last Sunday were over the line and deserved greater punishment. In addition to going the wrong way on the grid (race stewards should have directed him to the pit area), he took out Aleix Espargaro & Valentino Rossi in separate incidents that were well beyond what I would call racing incidents. Perhaps Marquez needs to be advised that subsequent behavior like this will result in a race suspension.


JWH
Southeast Michigan

 

“We'll See.”

Congratulations on the purchase of the Stelvio! I am the editor of a truck publication for Ram/Cummins owners (www.tdr1.com), and I follow your concerns/rants/observations about the FCA products each week. Thanks for the insight that you provide.

I, like all of those in Auburn Hills that work diligently to make the pronouncements of Marchionne come somewhat true, am hopeful that the Stelvio can make the grade. It is a beautiful machine and speaks to the point that you have emphasized since Day One: It is all about the product.

Robert Patton
Cumming, Georgia

 

Separating the machine from the CEO.

So The UjianNasional is getting an Alfa Romeo. My first thought was the check the dateline on the story, it says April 11th, not April 1st.

Your story resonated because I just acquired an Alfa Giulia TI in march. I never expected to, but as an enthusiast I made the effort to stop in after visits to BMW, MB, Audi. Once I drove it, there was no question, the Giulia is like viagra for the sport sedan. Its what BMW used to be, in terms of class leading driving experience.

It was still a giant slog to complete the lease (I'm not standing behind Alfa residuals), battling through low stock and incredibly variable dealership quality, from the slick, the good, the average, down to outlets that basically don't function and would be sacked and dispatched instantly by the regional manager of any of the German marques.

The true believers in Italy have created a compelling product, jumping into the hole left by BMW. But this is also a complete offering as a premium car, it has AWD if you want it, all the equipment and so far, sterling quality. Only the sub-par but functional infotainment reminds you that you are not subscribing to one of the German behemoths.

Alfa does have a long slog ahead, even getting consideration from ordinary buyers is hard, and if they visited some of the dealers I did they would flee to the welcoming embrace of the blue propeller instantly never to return. That has to be resolved, and the slow block and tackle work done of building up sales, adding dealers, providing service well day in and day out. A sweater wearing functionary at the top hand-waving 70k sales in a year and getting pissed when it doesn't turn out may not help. Is he, or his successor in it for the long haul of polished consistency that's going to be necessary?

Anyway congratulations on separating the machine from the CEO. Should be worth it.

Bevan Brookfield
Evanston, Illinois

 

At your service.

Thanks for being our Alfa guinea pig. This should be a fun exercise. How about some first impressions? To take the plunge you had to have had at least some initial sense for the ride and handling of the vehicle, for comfort, fit and finish. I know my brief test drives with both gave me a positive impression but not enough of one to buy/lease until the brand’s quality was more established. Good luck with the Stelvio and keep the details coming.

JAM
Holly Springs, North Carolina

Editor-in-Chief's NoteYes, I'm shallow, but a vehicle's design has to lure me in and, as a crossover/SUV the Stelvio passes muster because it definitely has a compelling design point of view. Secondly, the interior is unexpectedly good, and since that is where you spend all of your time with a vehicle, it has to be well-executed and welcoming. The Stelvio gets high marks here (yes, I know my frustration with the radio is coming, but for now, I am pleased). And finally, and this is most important, the Stelvio just feels like a driver's machine. Too many crossovers assume you like going along for the ride, while the Stelvio is engaging and responsive. But then again, this is very early days, and we shall see what we see. -PMD

 

Somehow, we knew this was coming...

Sorry Peter, based upon your latest Rant I just couldn’t help myself - had to do it - LOL


Mark W.
Auburn Hills, Michigan

 

Notgonnahappen.com

A clue to Alfa's future – in perusing the minimal auto section in this Sunday's Boston Globe the first ad I see is for Alfa – plugging a Guilia for the Hyundai level price of $199/ month!

GSG
Boston, Massachusetts

 

More on Alfa.

Great piece on Alfa Romeo. Your sentiments echo mine in that the road forward is going to be very rough for them. It took Audi nearly forty years of hard graft, boatloads of cash and several near death experience here before they attained their current elevated status. I don't think FCA has the intestinal fortitude, or cash, or frankly, long-term corporate future to make Alfa Romeo a force in North America. I hope to be proven wrong.

I applaud your bravery in signing on the dotted line for a new Stelvio, I would have given it a pass (groan, sorry, could not resist). That said, if it as good as its Bugatti Type 57 namesake that was at the New York show this year, it will be worth celebrating.

Best of luck. I look forward to reading about your experience with the car.

Ron Corbett
Aurora, Ontario, Canada

 

American Motors and Studebaker in one email!

As a car enthusiastic, one cannot help but root for Alfa Romeo to have staying power. I don't lease but in this instance, I'm tempted. I want to date a Giulia a good long while before I commit to marriage. She could be trouble. Alas Alfa Romeo, Fiat, and Maserati will never make up what FCA has lost by mismanaging Dodge and Chrysler. How much better it would be if those resources where spent on making the Chrysler brand a relevant player. There absolutely should be a portfolio of car style crossovers bearing Dodge or Chrysler branding to complement lifestyle oriented Jeep. That Dodge and Chrysler are being played out, hanging on until their antiquated offerings taper off for good is all too obvious. It's almost too late. Chrysler is about as relevant as American Motors in today's market. The Charger/Challenger thing cannot last much longer. The other Dodge products are despairing. So we're left with the tired old meme, what happens to Jeep and RAM when the next oil shock comes?

Did it feel this sad when Studebaker died?

Brian Daniels
East Nassau, New York



Color breaks.

To Steve H: It's not just Alfa that lacks choice in colors or equipment. Go to virtually any Chevy store. They have every color imaginable if you want silver, dark silver, white, or black. GM offers other colors, but no one stocks them. Years ago, Cadillac had a gorgeous blue on offer. I wanted an SRX with that color, and was living in Birmingham, AL, at the time. My dealer found one… in Spokane Washington.

I only saw that blue in person on ONE Cadillac. It was at a dealer that sold every color you wanted as long as it was silver.

D. J. Mann
Johnson City, Tennessee

 

Not an Alfa fan.

Personally, I can't look at an Alfa without a twinge of disgust, even though I'm the kind of guy who usually a.) welcomes marquis that embrace passionate driving and b.) are willing to knock BMW off their high horse. But all I see when I see a C4 or Giulia is money that COULD have been spent on Chrysler. No new midsize sedans, no sport compacts, just trucks, minivans and leftover MB scraps.

I wanted a RWD Avenger midsize sedan for under $40k. The Pronto Spyder with an SRT-4 turbo is another particular pipe dream that could have been. Or an evolution of the PT Cruiser, remember that car preceded ALL the compact crossover vehicles (Cube, xB, Soul) but they let it whither and live with all its flaws until it became a joke.

But in the fancy parts of the fancy towns on the EC I am seeing a growing number of Alfas. (Disgustingly, it's the SUV. facepalm) and when you say people are buying them, that's not exactly true. People are LEASING them, they pay hundreds a month to have the newest IT thing and dispose of it before the warranty is up. I wouldn't exactly rely on these people as indicators of a product being GOOD just that people are lining up to buy them.

Infosaur
Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania

 

Alfa-bet.

I look forward to hearing about your experience with the Stelvio; I'm a long-term (since 1971) BMW enthusiast but I'm more than a bit interested in a RWD Giulia Ti. I still regret not buying the pristine 1973 GTV I looked at in 1979. Here's hoping your time with the car is entertaining ad trouble-free. 

Bailey Taylor
Mt. Washington, Kentucky


Stelvio.

Congratulations on getting a Stelvio, and I'm  looking forward to your updates. Will this replace your VW Golf GTI? Even though the VW and the Alfa are in different classes, i would be interested in your thoughts on how they compare in terms of reliability and durability. Both brands have strong reputations for driving dynamics, but there is a lingering concern about each holding up in the long term.

DR
Scottsdale, Arizona

Editor-in-Chief's Note: Yes, I'm sad to report that I parted company with my beloved GTI (Sport, 6-speed manual), which I consider to be one of the top five cars I've ever owned, all-time. But the only way of knowing whether or not Alfa Romeo has a shot in this market is to live in the real world with one and make real payments on it. I hope it's interesting and not annoying. -PMD

 

The Real Story.

So the real story is that there's a fresh used GTI on the market? This could be as good as getting Jon Voight's LeBaron. ;)

Nate
Novi, Michigan

 

Mute it, please.

I have a question about the new ESPN telecast of Formula One. Do those announcers get paid by the word? They never shut up. They must come from the “every second of air time has to be filled with breathless commentary” school of broadcasting. Thank goodness for the mute button.

Ted R.
Raleigh, North Carolina


Alfa blues.

You're a braver man than me Gunga Din.

Bill H.
St. Peters, Missouri








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