8:00 a.m., somewhere in the deepest rush hour traffic from Düsseldorf, the almost endlessly long metal avalanches are slowly but surely pushing from intersection to intersection. Traffic is unreasonable in these minutes, and so the (maybe) only Saab draws my attention this morning. Naturally. A Saab stands out today more than ever than Aero anyway.
And while I think of Griffin front masks and Ice-Block headlights, there is this other vehicle. Just as rare, and different in its own way. It is an Alfa Romeo Giulia, a rarely seen guest on German roads as I will learn later. Admittedly, the Italian doesn't let go of me completely, he somehow appeals to me and I spend the rest of the day thinking about my morning discovery. I do a little research and want to know more about the sporty sedan from Turin. And I open an unexpected door.
Act 1: sales figures like Saab
3.450 pieces. This is how high (or also low) Alfa Romeo's sales figure in Germany reads. Terrifying, isn't it? And it does not mean the figures for the current quarter. It has been the approvals since January 1.1.2019st, 0,1. Alfa can claim almost 29.000% of new German registrations. The general rule is: sales in Europe are crumbling. Huge indeed! Just under XNUMX units were sold in the current financial year, a number that applies to all of Europe (!)
Even Lancia, the long-abandoned Fiat Chrysler corporation, sold more vehicles than Alfa this year - with just one model in a single market. For comparison: Saab was able to sell just under 2009 units in 32.000. And was on the level at which Alfa is now. Alfa will be shown by the group's bottom light, which is practically already handled. The Lancia compact car brings together more sales than Giulia and Stelvio. Compared to 2018, Giulia sales dropped by more than 42%, those of Stelvio by "only" 20%.
And in times when SUVs are always setting new sales records. Alfa Romeo lags behind in all countries and in the world's largest markets - America and China - you play a more than subordinate role. The group absorbs negative business such as that of Alfa Romeo with its North American business. The increased demand for jeeps, pick-ups and SUVs hide the tragedy on the European market.
Act 2: Following the German standard
Alfa Romeo is not only lacking in sales, it is also clearly lagging behind the competition in Italy with the new car standard. What was still celebrated by the company's own brand fans for the introduction of Giulia and Stelvio turned out to be a dangerous balancing act for Alfa if one does not want to scare off the “Alfisti” but absolutely has to generate sales figures. Without the electrical helpers such as the predictive distance radar - which can follow the vehicle in front in a traffic jam - the steering assistant or the traffic sign recognition, it is difficult in Italy if you want to poach in the customer segments of BMW and Mercedes. The assistance systems mentioned have been standard there for years, even with the 9-5 NG from there, some selected assistance systems for retrofitting at an additional cost. Alfa is now planning to add these in the course of the next facelift. Years too late, but at least.
Act 3: The lack of breadth in the portfolio
And this despite the fact that a few years ago an incredible amount of money was put into the in-house platform "Giorgio". The Giulia and the Stelvio emerged from it, the furious concept of the “Tonale” also builds on it. At that time the former were showered with designer prizes, the path seemed to be going uphill. By 2022, seven more models had been announced, including two new sports cars and a small SUV. The electrification of the range with plug-in hybrids and battery drives and the return to the small car segment. Up until the middle of last year, the group management even said that from 2022 Alfa Romeo would sell 400.000 units annually. So the future looked bright.
But in 2019 there is bitter reality. Gone are the long-believed future. Two of the former four models in the model range were discontinued. First, the MiTo was hit. It got out of the safe small car segment, and in the middle of this year the 4C had to believe it. In addition, the aging Giulietta will most likely experience its last model year in 2020. The question of a successor would be justified, but it does not apply.
There is simply none.
And yet you still see yourself in the premium segment in Turin. Accordingly, the prices for their own products are set high, because Giulia & Co are considerably more expensive than their predecessors - courageous, after all, you are playing the role of the ailing automobile manufacturer. Of the seven models announced so far, only the concept of the Tonale has remained. When it comes is more than open. And the two sports cars actually required would be typical for Alfa, but here, too, there was no evidence. Likewise, the important further developments in the direction of plug-in hybrids and battery cars have been scaled back significantly across the entire group than initially announced. The new limit values for vehicle manufacturers' fleet consumption will also apply from 2021. Without the “super credits” from the sales of alternative drive systems, it will be difficult for a brand like Alfa Romeo to adhere to the newly determined limit values.
Act 4: research? Wrong!
Most of all, there is a lack of research. Except for the design, Alfa can draw little attention to itself. When it comes to infotainment, you're just as far behind as when it comes to assistance systems. Both are still too far behind the competition. Although FCA works with a Google subsidiary across the group, for example in the context of autonomous driving, serious results are still pending. Added to this are the interests of the Group's shareholders, who would rather receive profits from the sale of companies as dividends rather than hand over the long-needed millions to their own, under-financed research department.
Rescue is near - the merger with PPE
But not everything has to be negative, like in the drama about Saab you are there. The ever-emerging hope for a long-term rescue. The chairmen of Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles and the Opel parent company PSA had been negotiating a suitable solution for weeks, and a few days ago the relevant news portals finally reported that an agreement had been signed to merge into the fourth largest automobile manufacturer. Finally - light at the end of the tunnel for Fiat-Chrysler. Because with the French on board, the Italians should suddenly find themselves in the fast lane, especially when it comes to battery vehicles.
From years of missing and shying investments to a really solid e-platform - a few signatures, and the tide for the Italian automotive industry could turn quickly. Modern platforms, good design and the latest security and assistance systems at an affordable price. PSA brings with it what FCA has been missing and urgently needed for years. Nevertheless, the FCA Group - like Opel two years ago - will most likely have to adjust to hard cuts.
It will also have to be seen whether the good sales network in Europe and the hybrid and battery platforms from the PSA shelf can really turn things around. And whether Alfa, Lancia and Chrysler still have a chance at all in the newly created group and will not end up in the museum, may be more open than ever with the merger of the two car giants. The story threatens to repeat itself.
The ingredients for the downfall of a traditional brand have been well known since 2011 at the latest. Weak sales figures, a too small model range and an investment-shy parent company. In addition, shareholders who prefer dividends rather than necessary investments. We now know that Saab suffered from similar problems, even though a broader range of models and pioneering innovations could be demonstrated.
The NG's lightbar was years ahead of automotive design, and hope that Alfa could make a similar coup should be slim. Even if the design of the Tonale brings a breath of fresh air to the SUV scene. So the story threatens to repeat itself. The lack of investment, the sometimes immense deficit to the competition, Alfa Romeo has not bottomed out again for a reason. And that, although one still has to face the hard times.
New limit values, the switch to alternative drives - you will have to hurry in Turin if you don't want the same end as in Trollhättan. The merger with PSA should provide justified hope for improvement. The new alliance on the automotive market certainly has a lot of potential, and new opportunities could arise for Alfa. Whether one will benefit (and may) in Turin remains open. If not, another traditional and individual brand could be doomed by 2021 at the latest. The merger with PSA - it for Alfa Romeo could be the last chance but also the final end.