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Alfa Romeo's bitter pill | PH Footnote

With its performance plans scrapped, what future do enthusiast Alfas now have?

By Dan Prosser / Wednesday, November 13, 2019

You needn’t have had any immediate plans to purchase the next-generation Alfa Romeo 8C or in-development GTV to have been saddened by news earlier this month that both had been canned. Meanwhile, the underwhelming but characterful 4C is no more and will not be replaced. Instead of building what was reported to be a 700hp supercar with a carbon tub and a 600hp coupe version of the brilliant Giulia Quadrifoglio, Alfa will instead concentrate its efforts and resources on a new line of crossovers and SUVs.

From the point of view of the performance car enthusiast, depressing doesn’t come close. It’s like everything that’s frustrating about the automotive landscape in 2019 in one blinkered product strategy. I spoke to a couple of Toyota execs earlier this year during the GR Supra launch who admitted that canning all halo and performance models from the Toyota line-up in the wake of the financial crash had been a mistake. If you had wandered around a Toyota motor show stand circa 2010, you’d have seen a sea of appliances. It was about as titillating as strolling through Dixons.

Getting back to basics and cutting all extraneous activity when times are hard is undoubtedly the right thing to do, but when the tide eventually turns it isn’t helpful to be left with a range of cars that nobody aspires to, but merely accepts they have a need for. With models like the GT86, Yaris GRMN and the new Supra, as well as title-winning WEC and WRC campaigns, Toyota is once again working overtime to inject some want-one factor back into its brand.

So in canning its forthcoming high performance models, Alfa Romeo might have been short-sighted. But maybe not. I happen to believe it’s done exactly the right thing. Frankly, it didn’t have a choice. Its sales figures bear that out as surely as they make grim reading. According to a plan Alfa set out in 2014, by 2018 it would be shifting 400,000 cars each year. Sales data published by Forbes shows it managed only a quarter of that. The Alfa renaissance isn’t faltering - it scarcely got going.

Against that backdrop, it would have been negligent to have pressed on with a pair of high performance models that would have hoovered up an awful lot of investment capital and returned not much by way of profitability. Alfa had far more pressing matters to attend to. You must rebuild a crumbling house before you can decorate it. As much as we might sneer at crossovers and SUVs, they are still overwhelmingly popular with buyers and Alfa Romeo must claim its slice of that pie.

What we don’t know, of course, is for how long that trend will continue go on. Attitudes to such cars may well change sooner than we think - they are more polluting than comparable saloons and hatchbacks after all - so betting the farm on SUVs alone is surely not the solution. (What’s curious is that according to an internal document, Alfa Romeo will be refocussing ‘on its strengths’ as it readjusts its strategy towards SUVs and away from sports cars. Isn’t that a strange thing to say about a company that has to date built only one SUV, and one that doesn’t seem to have been much of a sales success at that?) Its second SUV after the Stelvio will be the smaller Tonale. That’s Toh-na-ley, before you ask…

Meanwhile, the Giulia saloon will remain in production alongside the SUVs. Presumably the Quadrifoglio versions will too, in which case Alfa Romeo will at least continue to build a couple of cars that enthusiastic buyers might aspire to.

If the company can stabilise itself over the next few years, it will surely think once again about bringing a purpose-built performance car to market. Alfa Romeo’s heritage almost demands it. Will FCA’s merger with PSA facilitate that or obstruct it? We’ll have to wait and see. But I do know this: should Alfa Romeo find itself in a position to build a high-powered supercar five years from now, that sort of car will look, go and sound not at all like an equivalent car from 2019. As of this week, the combustion engined Alfa Romeo sports car might well be on the extinct species list.

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