Alfa Romeo set to fix product ‘shortcomings’

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LOS ANGELES — Alfa Romeo, battling a 27 percent U.S. sales decline this year, admitted to “shortcomings” in its U.S. product lineup and promised the 2020 model-year versions of the Giulia midsize sedan and Stelvio compact crossover will begin to fix them.

Bob Broderdorf, director of Alfa Romeo North America, told an audience of media and dealers at the Los Angeles Auto Show that the changes will give Alfa “the single most competitive offering we’ve ever had.”

The focus on existing models follows word that the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles sports car unit is scaling back.

Under a product plan unveiled in June 2018, Alfa was supposed to have fielded seven models before 2023, including two sports cars and a large utility vehicle. That was adjusted by FCA CEO Mike Manley on Oct. 31, during the automaker’s third-quarter earnings call with analysts.

“I fundamentally believe in the brand, but we must make sure that any investments that we make generate an appropriate return,” he said.

Plans now call for Alfa to have four models — the Giulia, the Stelvio, a new compact SUV and a new small SUV. The Giulia and Stelvio will get a midcycle freshening in 2021, according to a chart shown to analysts.

The compact SUV — previewed by the Tonale concept vehicle shown in Los Angeles and first unveiled in March at the Geneva auto show — will arrive in 2021 and the small SUV in 2022.

Broderdorf said the changes reflect input from customers.

“The vehicle should be quieter? We’ve added laminated glass throughout the vehicle,” he said.

“On the Stelvio, before, we used to have plastic cladding down below. Why? It’s a premium vehicle; it shouldn’t be there! Let’s change it to body color and drive home the premium feel of the vehicle.”

The product modifications for the 2020 model year are common to Alfas sold globally.

The brand returned to the U.S. in 2014 after a two-decade absence and peaked at 23,800 sales last year.

Volume is now high enough to merit a ranking on J.D. Power’s Initial Quality Study. This year, Alfa ranked fourth from the bottom, ahead of Mitsubishi, Land Rover and Jaguar.

This year’s U.S. sales decline through September meant only 13,347 deliveries. Broderdorf said “the volume segments are the ones that matter, as much as I love the specialty cars” that were part of the 2018 product plan.

“My core focus in the short term are products like Tonale,” he added.

Asked if there was a chance Alfa Romeo would be pulled from the U.S. in light of the proposed merger of FCA with France’s PSA Group, Broderdorf said: “The plan for Alfa Romeo is rock solid, and we will continue to grow, one sale at a time, one consumer at a time.”

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