Alfa under threat?

Jay Nagley

The boss of Fiat, Sergio Marchionne has given Alfa Romeo a blunt warning that its future is not guaranteed. Increasingly fed up with Alfa's habit of regularly announcing a new strategy and a great new future, Marchionne told trade magazine Automotive News Europe, "We need to stop doing it. You cannot be a newborn Christian every four years. It's the same religion, eventually you need to own a religion and carry it to conclusion."

The two options currently on the table are equally drastic – and deeply unpalatable to Alfa enthusiasts. The first one is simply to stop developing new models after the 147 replacement, the Giulietta, goes on sale next year. That would leave Alfa in a kind of half-life making small cars for as long as they have a market – a bit like sibling Lancia, in fact. The other, which is no more pleasant, is to use Chrysler platforms as the basis of the next 159 and 166. The idea of an Alfa sharing a platform with the next-generation Chrysler Sebring is scary stuff and has shades of the dreadful Arna of the 1980s - a mix of Alfasud and Nissan Cherry intended to cut the costs of Alfa Romeo (it was more like cutting the throat of Alfa Romeo).

Marchionne is certainly right to be furious with the management of Alfa. After the successful launch of the beautiful 156, which used to sell a healthy 120,000 a year, the lacklustre 159 completely lost momentum. People use to love the 156 for its looks or hate it for its unreliability (or frequently both), but the 159 is about as big a threat to the BMW 3 Series as the Renault Laguna. Alfa's total sales were just over 100,000 last year – miles away from what a semi-premium car company needs to break even. Just ask Saab.