Alfa Romeo boss: "I don't want to sell an iPad with a car around it"
Alfa Romeo has a revival plan. Again. This time it involves a major launch every year until 2027, including a sporty full-electric sedan of Giulia size in 2024. Great news. Also a couple of small crossovers, which is a pretty boring thing for a company like Alfa to be doing.
Trouble is, every two or three years for the past 15 years, Alfa has unveiled five-year plans. Each time those 'revivals' failed to produce the number of promised different modes, or the number of cars sold.
Alfa has a new boss, Jean-Philippe Imparato. He came in January. I mention all those failed Alfa plans to him.
The last one was expensive: an all new platform, a new factory. It produced just two cars, the Giulia and Stelvio, of the six promised. They're great, but they sell in tiny numbers (55,000 last year in all) versus their German rivals.
He takes it on the chin. "Yes. But you know me. You'll just have to trust me." Previously he turned around Peugeot. He improved quality, launched the SUVs the market was leaning into and improved residual values. Most of all, made better cars.
In other words he did what he promised where others before him had failed. "This Alfa plan is locked and funded by Stellantis [the sprawling 14-brand global group in which Alfa now finds itself after the merger between PSA and Fiat-Chrysler]."
Stellantis is designing three electric car platforms, and Alfa will use the biggest and most sophisticated of those. Alfa is having a lot of influence on its engineering: "Our guy in that team is the one who did the GTA version of the Giulia." The platform will also be used by DS and Jeep and Dodge. Range is up to 800km, from battery sizes up to 118kWh, and charging at 800V for 30km per minute.
"Going electric is an existential choice to be made. And we made it. You can't be half-pregnant. You can't spread yourself across five technologies. We are at the tipping point."
The first of those electric cars will be that sports sedan in 2024. Imparato insists it'll be beautiful. Just as he gave free reign to Gilles Vidal at Peugeot, he says he's supporting new Alfa design boss Alejandro Mesonero-Romanos, who has the Cupra Formentor and Tavascan concept on his CV.
Alfas will be lightweight compared with other EVs, he says. Inside, there will be traditional controls, and the drive will have character. "I don't want to sell an iPad with a car around it." He's also sceptical about autonomous driving in an Alfa. "It will be enhanced driving but human driven – an augmented experience."
It's clear Imparato has passion for Alfa. "Switching from Peugeot to Alfa, you don't do that for your career. It's a personal choice for me. I love Alfa. I love Italy."
Going electric is an existential choice to be made. And we made it. You can't be half-pregnant. You can't spread yourself across five technologies. We are at the tipping point.
His electric sedan sounds exciting. But first, the company will launch the Tonale smallish crossover in June (pictured below), and another one smaller than that.
The Tonale uses the Jeep Compass platform (oddly, that was derived from the 2010 Alfa Giulietta hatch). Is it really Alfa's job to wade into an uninspired and congested market, and probably cannibalise several small crossovers from other brands in the group?
Imparato shoots back: "I need those customers to make money, to feed the switch to EV. If I just build £100,000 cars I won't have a business." Nor would the dealers, he points out.
"When you drive the Tonale, it's an Alfa. That's why I delayed the launch three months. I needed to get the right CO2 [its a PHEV] and the right handling."
If the next Giulia and the crossovers start making money, Imparato knows what he wants to do after that. A Spider has been designed and shown to the dealers. But he insists it must remain "on my dream list" until at least 2027. And only then if the business is solid.
STORY Paul Horrell