It's no secret that Sergio Marchionne -- the man who brought Fiat back to America -- has also been plotting Alfa Romeo's return to the U.S.
Nor is it a secret that Marchionne is pinning the performance brand's hopes and dreams on the sexy Alfa Romeo 4C. Despite some frustrating delays, that model should arrive on this side of the pond by the middle of 2014.
The question is: where will the Alfa be sold?
Initially, we'd thought that the 4C might be sold at Fiat's Maserati dealerships. Though its projected $54,000 pricetag rings in well below Maserati models, the 4C's performance credentials, sleek Italian style, and limited availability likely appeal to the same well-heeled demographic that Maserati courts.
In September, however, news reports indicated that the 2014 Alfa Romeo 4C would be sold at Fiat-branded dealerships. It was a strange idea to us, putting a limited-edition halo car from a newly relaunched brand under the same roof as another recently relaunched brand. Also, we weren't sure that Fiat shoppers were the "cool kids" whose attention Alfa Romeo needs if it wants to land a secure foothold in the U.S. Then again, Fiat dealers see far more foot traffic than Maserati, so maybe Marchionne & Co. simply hoped to get a lot of exposure for the 4C very quickly.
According to AutoNews, however, the matter isn't entirely settled: both Fiat and Maserati dealers continue to wrangle over the 4C.
UP IN THE AIR
Marchionne says that if he has his way, he'll place the stylish new coupe in the hands of the best-performing Fiat dealerships. Whether he'll get his way, however, remains to be seen. He's told the media that the question remains up in the air.
The problem apparently stems from a conflict between Fiat and Chrysler. Although they're very close siblings nowadays, each has its own culture and growth plans.
It's pretty clear that Chrysler wants to control distribution of the 4C in the U.S. just as it controlled Fiat's rollout. Specifically, Chrysler wants to place the 4C and future Alfa Romeo vehicles at Fiat dealerships. Doing so, Chrysler believes, will boost the inventory at Fiat shops and lay the groundwork for strong future sales.
Fiat (the parent company, not the Fiat sub-brand) doesn't seem to feel the same. The faction of Fiat that controls both Alfa Romeo and Maserati wants the two to work together in the U.S.
In the end, Alfa Romeo's stateside home may be determined by numbers -- not sales numbers, since the U.S. is likely to receive only about 1,000 of the limited-edition 4C model, but marketing numbers and whether Fiat or Maserati is a better bet for Alfa down the road.
At the moment, Marchionne is trying to assuage the fears of U.S. Fiat dealers by talking of future Fiat products that will offer shoppers more options than the handful of Fiats on sale now. That seems like a lead-in to a long, painful speech about Alfa teaming up with Maserati.
Chances are, the final decision won't be made for a few more months. We'll keep you posted.