Alfa Guarded About U.S. Return

A late-2009 announcement of Alfa’s plans for the U.S. roughly coincides with the promised release of a 5-year plan to infuse Chrysler’s product lineup with technology from the Fiat family.

Special Coverage

Frankfurt Auto Show

FRANKFURT – Fiat Auto SpA’s Alfa Romeo brand will make its U.S. market aspirations known by year’s end, a top executive says.

“At the moment, we have a lot of options on the table,” the brand’s CEO Sergio Cravero tells Ward’s at the auto show here.

Asked if staying out of the U.S. is one of those options, Cravero is non-committal. “We are investigating (the issue) in a complete way,” he says. “By the end of the year, we will be able to give you the right plan for the future.”

The timing of such an announcement roughly coincides with the promised release of a 5-year plan to infuse Chrysler Group LLC’s product lineup with technology from the Fiat family. Fiat CEO Sergeio Marchionne, who holds the same position at Chrysler, says here a new product lineup will be revealed in November.

This is significant because, at one time, the Alfa Romeo Milano sedan, set to launch next year and described by Cravero as the most important product on the brand’s horizon, was expected to share its platform with the next-generation Chrysler Sebring midsize sedan.

If Alfa takes a pass on the U.S., it would mark a dramatic shift in strategy. One of Cravero’s predecessors – he is the third executive to lead the brand in the last three years – had said Alfa’s best chance to grow would require selling and eventually assembling vehicles in North America.

Alfa officially returned to the U.S. less than 12 months ago, ending a 13-year absence with the arrival of the limited-run 450-hp 8C Competizione, which is sold through Maserati dealerships.

An earlier vision of the brand’s strategy called for mainstream models such as the 159 and Brera to follow the 8C. They were to be sold through dedicated Alfa stores.

However, Fiat’s tie-up with Chrysler portends the possibility of distribution through the U.S. auto maker’s well-established dealer network. But Cravero is mum. “We have to decide by the end of the year what to do,” he says.

Despite the depressed global economy, the Italian auto maker soldiers on. Through the year’s first half, Alfa sales in Europe totaled nearly 60,000 units – 10.4% ahead of like-2008.

Cravero told Reuters earlier this month he expects Alfa will end the year near 120,000 unit sales, an 11% jump over 2008. But 300,000 remains the long-term target for Alfa, he said.

Cravero uses the show here to debut a high-performance version of its MiTo C-car – the MiTo Quadrifoglio Verde, which is powered by a 170-hp 1.4L 4-cyl. engine that features Fiat’s MultiAir technology.

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