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Alfa Coming to U.S.? Don't Bother

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As I read the morning RSS feeds for this blog, I rarely have to clean up after a spit take. But here I am, swabbing down after the latest Automotive News story about Alfa Romeo's return to the U.S.

I refuse to believe Alfa's coming to the U.S., because I was around when they left in 1995, and things haven't gotten better.

There's so much wrong with the logic behind the News story - not the reporting, but if it's true, Fiat's logic behind bringing Alfa back -- that you have to laugh. The idea to get into the U.S. market is to either buy an old Big Three plant and retool, or to expand one of the company's Case New Holland factories. Sales would start in 2011 or 2012, and Alfa would expect to build about 150,000 vehicles a year for the U.S. and some for export to Europe.

Now, building for Europe I can see, since the U.S. is now a low-cost country. But everything else sounds like the Italian version of Punked!, in which some desperate state tries to get manufacturing jobs and gets stuck with Alfa instead.

Start from the premise. Buying an old factory and retooling might make financial sense, but the former employees of that plant will inevitably ask for jobs at the newly reopened plant, making a union work force more likely than not. That's not how any transplant has succeeded in the U.S., with the exception of Toyota at NUMMI. The rule is go greenfield - build your own factory and your own workforce far from existing plants and the UAW. It's sad, but true.

Second goof: in case you haven't read, Fiat, the U.S. car market is shrinking, not growing. Where are those 150,000 sales going to come from?

Third false premise: reliability. Even the lowliest Korean car has a higher quality perception and gets more red circles in Consumer Reports than the best Italian car. Given Alfa's past reputation, isn't it likely that not only will the cars have quality issues, but that shoppers will think they have more issues -- and report back to J.D. Power thusly?

Fourth, let's go back to sales. Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne wants to build 150,000 Alfas and sell most of them in the U.S. Where will those buyers come from when Saab can't break 40,000 units a year?

What kind of folly makes second-tier automakers from Europe, China, and even Japan think that selling cars in the U.S. is a good idea? Is it Piechian vanity, or just a raw number sitting out there that has to be fulfilled for an up and coming capitalist to take the next step to becoming Prime Minister?

The thirst for Italian cars here may be roughly equal to the thirst for Italian-made coffee makers. I want one of those Francis Francis espresso machines desperately because they're stylish, technically fascinating and come in hot colors. And even though I'd pay $1000 for it, I don't think car shoppers are ready to pay $200,000 -- the equivalent markup -- for a 35-mpg hatchback with an iffy reliability history.

Call it a reverse DeLorean. It's not quite the swindle that China's MG suckered in the state of Oklahoma with, but it's bound for failure. Any elected state official that puts up tax dollars to play Alfa's game of doom should be deposed and forced to drive a Milano with a broken connecting rod as punishment.

Buyer beware.
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Comments (19)
  1. Having only seen and driven Alfas in Europe (i.e. not being 40+), I have no perceptions for Alfa to worry about. The union plant thing is definitely true. And if VW can sell a ton of poorly engineered cars with no soul and aspire to be the German Toyota (as if that will happen), surely Alfa can do better. An Alfa 147-style hatch could compete nicely against the Rabbit/Mazda3 and would be a good starting point. 150K in sales might be overly ambitious though.

    Of course the problem is that they will undoubtedly "tune" the cars for the US market which will mean heavy large engines, soft plushy suspensions and flat bench chairs called buckets to fit large American asses...
     
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  2. Alfa should concentrate on the European market. Their European sales are not much higher than the sales projected above for the US market.

    And they need to make innovative cars again, not twinspark versions of Fiats.
     
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  3. "Piechian vanity" FTW
     
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  4. Alfa's chance of success here is about ZERO. Only VW among non-luxury Europeans has survived, and Volvo has huge losses for the idiots at Ford that bought it. Saab only survives as part of GM too..All previous attempts by the french and the italians to enter the US market failed MISERABLY, incl. ALFA itself back in the 80s.
     
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  5. Someone's got a case of the Monday's....

    Despite Marty's Sturm und Drang, I don't think that Alfa is completely off base.

    Why build an entirely new plant when an existing building and infrastructure will do?
    Just offer workers competitive wages and working conditions up front so that the Unions are neither a palatable or necessary option.

    Perhaps Alfa's sales ambitions are a bit high, but given the market for well-designed small cars with a premium label - it will probably be a viable business. Alfas are much better than they were in the 70's and 80's - as are the Japanese. The cars that don't go to US dealers can always be exported to Mexico, Canada, Japan and Italy.
     
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  6. MAYBE!, ONLY A DESPERADO AT THE STATE LEVEL, WILL BE WILLING!; TO PUNISH AND PUNITIVELY ASSESS THEIR CONSTITUENTS, AND THEY MIGHT BE ABLE TO MOVE RIGHT IN ?, NO MONEY DOWN NO SECURITY DEPOSIT , CHARGE ALL OF THERE MORASS TO THE TAX PAYER: "OF COURSE, I HAVE SEEN THE LEGAL TENDER LIGHTS!.

    WHAT A WAIST OF EFFORT, TO CONCEIVE OF TRYING TO BUILD FIAT ANYWHERE ON THIS PLANET?.
     
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  7. Remember when the idiots at GM lost 2 billion $ in attemting an alliance with Fiat? (they may even have bought the POS company).

    Click and Clack, the Tuppet brothers on CAR TALK, made fun of the deal, desptie their obvious italian origins, by saying that the cooperation would result in a special model, to be called

    "The Buick Porca Miseria"!
     
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  8. What a rant. Isn't there any adult supervision of TCC Bloggers? Alfa is doing quite well, thank you, in the markets in which they participate. There are a number of intelligent people outside the United States who have bought Alfas. A zenophobic posting if ever there was one.

    Take a look at the 159 sedan and wagon, excellent reviews in all markets. The 8C sold out world wide.

    Let me guess the blogger said the same thing when Maserati returned to the US. A very successful return by any standard.
     
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  9. If you've been following the activities in Europe over the past few years you would realize that the Fiat Group has come back from the brink of extinction in a big way. They are actively taking away market share from other brands with innovative, neatly designed products. The general perception there is that the quality has improved dramatically as well. Is that good enough for the US market? - time will tell. However, the current CEO (Marrichone - a Canadian) is perceived to have radically changed the company, letting the real talent rise to the top and getting rid of the useless management.

    To "Ed", it's interesting that Fiat's market cap (approx. $24B) has gone up while GM's(approx. $10B) has been going down. Don't forget that GM relies on Fiat for their small engines and diesels in particular. Sure, the $2 Billion helped dig Fiat out of the hole, but GM would have been wise to hold on to it by today's judgment and dump their remaining interest in GMAC.

    150,000 units seems like a lot, but I don't know what the breakdown between the USA and other countries would be. Currently, Fiat is the largest selling car in Brazil, with a substantial manufacturing presence. They just bought the Chrysler factory there that the 1st Gen Mini engines had been built in for something like 20 cents on the dollar that it cost to build just 8 years ago.

    This is not the company that built poor products and left in the 80's and 90's. Apparently one of their company rebuilding models was Hyundai, who went from the worst reliability to one of the best in the USA in less than 5 years.

    Personally, I'd welcome a breath of fresh air in the auto market here and if their products aren't up to snuff American consumers will send them packing quickly.

    Besides, how would adding thousands of jobs to manufacturing in the country be a bad thing? Remember, we can't all work at Wal-Mart, somebody has to build something.
     
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  10. Sorry I hit the wrong key and misspelled the CEO's name, it is Marchionne.
     
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  11. I'm the adult who wrote it - and I think Maserati's about 148,000 cars short of 150,000 units annually. Also, "xenophobic" is spelled with an "x."
     
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  12. Alfas are inferior POS unreliable cars, in Europe they are far cheaper than BMWs and therefore affordable. Market capitalization proves LITTLE, as TOYOTA has market cap 6 or 13 TIMES that of all Big 3 put together.

    The undeniable fact is that, apart from the italian EXOTICS, NO Euiropean cars in the midpriced segment got what it takes to succeed in the USA, and those who tried have all failed miserably (Alfa in the past, Peugeot, Renault etc). Even the luxo makers, except for the big 3 in germany, did dismally and have either sold to third world nations (Jag, Land Rover) or still belong to Ford and GM with utterly inferior products and results. (Volvo, Saab).

    The US market is TOUGH. It is NOT like in Europe, where a friend had to shell 17,000 EUROS for a lousy 1.4 lt (!) COROLLA. That's more than $27,000 US! For that kind of $ you can buy a V6 CAMRy or Accord here!
     
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  13. Very poor response. To say Maserati is 148,000 short of 150,000 is a meaningless statement. Why don't say offer that Ferrari is 145,000 short of 150,000. BTW, did you in fact predict Maserati's success either in the US or Worldwide markets?
     
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  14. "Remember when the idiots at GM lost 2 billion $ in attempting an alliance with Fiat? (they may even have bought the POS company)."

    The damned fools at GM paid an arm and a leg to aquire Fiat, and then had to pay an extra $ 2 billion to get rid of it.

    And then you compare the market value of Fiat to that of ... GM?

    NEITHER of the two clowns has any respect in serious automitive cycles, esp. their products. of the two, I have to say that GM has made the most progress recently and may be the only US maker that will survive.

    As for Maserati's alleged success in the US, I have some personal experience from good friends to tell:

    First of, Maseratis are priced so cheap, some cost HALF of what the top mercedes costs, hardly an exotic, and 1/4th what a Mercedes McLaren costs.

    Second, two friends of mine had the (lack of) wisdom to buy Maserati Quartroportes recently. ONE of them is incorrigible, because he had elased a jaguar XJ before, and it was an UTTER piece of JUNK, he told me it well deserved its reputation.

    With the Maserati, of course, he did much worse. The brand new car was SUCH A LEMON, that the dealer had to accept its return and give him another new one.
     
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  15. "...and I think Maserati’s about 148,000 cars short of 150,000 units annually. "

    When did Maserati ever state a 150,000 unit/year sales goal for the US?

    Last I read, they sold 2600 cars in the US alone last year - a 20 percent increase since 2006 making 2007 it's best year ever.

    I think I read that they have a goal for 2012 of 12,000 unit sales worldwide...
     
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  16. Wow, and here I was kind of looking forward to Alfa's comeback in the US. Silly me I guess. I mean I've only read about how much better their product has been getting. I mean I know they pulled out of the US in '95 and I was 19. Yes they made HORRIBLE cars then, but can't they change their image and products? Hell Ford, GM, and Chrysler are all making better cars today than they were in '95.....As far as the sales goals of 150k, yeah that is a tough one and I think that it will be tough to do, but I'm also not an expert there and haven't gone over the numbers or market research data.

    Guess we'll have to wait and see.
     
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  17. "Buying an old factory and retooling might make financial sense, but the former employees of that plant will inevitably ask for jobs at the newly reopened plant, making a union work force more likely than not."

    Yup, isn't that what happened to VW when they bought a former auto plant in Pennsylvania ?

    On the other hand, IF they do go ahead, who's to say the considerably less dinosaur UAW of 2008 won't agree to a different tier of compensation for this start-up, as they agreed with Detroit last year for some (non-production) new hires?

    Alfa quality is slowly on the up but word on the street here in Europe suggests dealer attitudes still need work.
     
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  18. This is the sort of uninformed ignorant drivel that perpertuates the myth that Alfa Romeos are poorly built and unreliable cars. The new range is solid, beautiful to look at and be in, and are as reliable as VAG products, which are unimpeachably bland. The only downside in Europe has been the dealership network and even that's improving - not a problem for the US because you will have a new network from scratch.

    Relax guys, look at the cars with an open mind and decide for yourself.
     
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  19. Have to agree with Frasers comments and the use of a picture of an Alfa 147 in your article that was designed nearly 10 years ago and at the end of it's model life is indicative to the amount of though being put into this blog. The USA will not be getting the Alfa 147......
     
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