Alfa Gets Amped, Readies to Go All-Electric

Larry Dominique, head of Alfa Romeo in North America, says he tells dealers, “Let’s take this great, historic brand and allow it to shine.” In a WardsAuto Q&A, he talks about how to do that.

Steve Finlay, Senior Editor

December 13, 2021

6 Min Read
Alfa Romeo Stelvio
Alfa Romeo Stelvio CUV is Italian luxury brand’s top seller in U.S.

Auto industry veteran Larry Dominique heads Stellantis’ Alfa Romeo Italian luxury brand in North America.

Before that, he led French automaker PSA’s effort (unfulfilled) to return the Peugeot brand to the U.S.

Dominique (pictured, below left) is a 37-year veteran of the auto industry, beginning at General Motors.

“I joined GM the month after I got married,” he says. “I started as a test engineer investigating car fires. I was the precursor to those CSI TV shows.”

Under Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Alfa Romeo returned to the U.S. in 2008. It had left in 1995 amid poor sales.

In America, it currently sells the Stelvio CUV and Giulia sedan, as well as high-performance Quadrifoglio versions of both.

Larry Dominique SQUARE(002).jpg

Larry Dominique SQUARE(002)

Dominique assumed his current position in March after Fiat Chrysler and PSA merged.

In a WardsAuto interview, he talks about Alfa’s past, present and future, which includes going all-electric this decade. Here’s an edited version of the Q&A.

WardsAuto: How’s the new job?

Dominique: As you know, we were spending a long time developing the plan to bring Peugeot back to the U.S. It’s a small, scrappy brand, as is Alfa Romeo.

In me taking on this new role, we knew Alfa is a brand that is historic, exciting and has 111 years of DNA. But it needed some nurturing. We haven’t done everything we need to do with the brand, but we certainly have goals to make it a premier brand for Stellantis.

WardsAuto: What are those goals?

Dominique: The reality is that in the past 10 years it’s been a series of stops and starts. We wanted to get consistent. The first thing we did was develop a longer-range product plan, locking in investments to make sure we have four or five products in the portfolio.

That allows us to compete in the core segments we need to compete in. A key part of that is a move to electrification, for sure.

WardsAuto: I want to talk to you about that, but first let me ask: Is Peugeot not coming to America after all?

Dominique: Correct. We put it on hiatus. We’re kind of leaving the door open. Stellantis has enough work to do with our 12 existing brands.

WardsAuto: Talk about Alfa and future electric vehicles.  

Dominique: All of the Stellantis brands are going electric, either partially or fully over time. Alfa will be Stellantis’ first North American brand to go 100% BEV. Sometime around 2027, we will no longer sell Alfa Romeos with internal combustion engines.

WardsAuto: When is the first electric vehicle coming out?

Dominique: The Tonale, next year. It’s slightly smaller than our No.1 seller, the Stelvio (CUV). It will have two powertrains, a 2.0L internal combustion engine and a plug-in hybrid version. When we think of the performance and weight balance, it will be Alfa, Alfa, Alfa. It has to be.

WardsAuto: Why do people buy Alfas?

Dominique: Because of the beauty and the performance. That DNA has been in our blood ever since Enzo Ferrari was racing for us.

WardsAuto: What are the challenges of an Italian luxury brand doing business in the U.S. with so many big, tough premium-segment competitors such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus? That’s a tall order for a small, scrappy brand.

Dominique: It is. But you can ask that question of any brand. Although awareness of us needs to be enhanced, people love us. We need to find more people who know us. We are the differentiated brand.

One of my dealers said: “I have this great idea for an ad. You’re at this high-end restaurant. Everyone is wearing dark dresses and suits, except for a couple at a corner table. She’s wearing a bright red dress, he’s wearing a bright-colored suit. Someone walks in and says, ‘Whoever has the gray sedan outside, you left your lights on.’ Everyone in the restaurant rushes out except for that Alfa couple.”

That’s how we think of the brand. We are a different take on premium. If you don’t want the same-old, same-old German elements, we deliver the Italian emotion and passion.

WardsAuto: Can we look for that commercial soon?

Dominique: Hah. We did just launch a new campaign. It transitions you not just to the performance of an Alfa Romeo, but the lifestyle.

WardsAuto: What are the demographics of an Alfa buyer in the U.S.?

Dominique: On average, they are about six years younger than our counterparts. We have a strong Gen X audience. And we’re starting to attract quite a few Millennials.

There’s a following. We’re selling 20,000 cars a year right now, yet we have 2 million Instagram and Facebook followers.

WardsAuto: Just to circle back to the EV strategy, the brand will ultimately be all BEV or a mix?

Dominique: Around 2027, I will no longer be selling ICE vehicles. Every vehicle will be plug-in hybrid or all-BEV. Within a year or two after that, it will just be BEVs.

WardsAuto: That’s gutsy.

Dominique: Some people say gutsy, we look at it as an opportunity.

WardsAuto: Alfa did well on a J.D. Power study on customer satisfaction. Why do you think?

Dominique: I’d say it is a new focus. I told my staff they needed to develop a premium-brand mindset, going to bed and waking up thinking about Alfa Romeo.

WardsAuto: How about dreaming of it?

Dominique: They’re starting to.

WardsAuto: You’ve spent much of your career as an engineer and product developer. Do you think not having a dealeresque background helps or hinders you with dealer relations?

Dominique: Good question. It offers a different point of view. For one thing, it allows me to ask stupid questions. Like: “Why do we do it this way?”

WardsAuto: When you were working on bringing Peugeot back to the U.S., you spent a lot of time talking about a dealership model of the future which was low on inventory, high on digital tools for customers and employees alike. Are you applying those same ideas to Alfa?

Dominique:  We have 140 dealers in the U.S. Our dealer throughput (total sales divided by the number of dealerships) averages about 143 per franchise.

That means we have a lot of upward potential and agility. We’re thinking how we can increase that without just adding a bunch of new rooftops. It’s a matter of being more efficient with what we’ve got. That can be done by using the (digital retailing) approach you just mentioned. Among other things, it would allow dealers to broaden their market reach and cover a greater geography.

WardsAuto: I don’t expect you to rag on dealers, but do you feel your 140 dealers feel as passionate about the brand as you do?

Dominique: Any brand can see a variability in sales from dealer to dealer. We’re no different.

But I can tell you the dealers I talk to are passionate about the brand. They ask me, “Are you going to stay around and help us build this brand?” I tell them: “Absolutely. I’m not looking for the next best thing. Let’s take this great, historic brand and allow it to shine.” Most dealers feel the same way. But I need to convince them that what I say is what I’ll do.

Steve Finlay is a retired WardsAuto senior editor. He can be reached at [email protected].

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