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Alfa Romeo takes another shot at America, gears up to launch third SUV

Alfa Romeo made news last October when declared itself profitable and secure for the next decade. Since then, its efforts in North America have been focused on the new hybrid Tonale SUV and in April it also celebrated the 100th anniversary of the high-performance, four-leaf-clover adorned Quadrifoglio variants.

But the phone really didn’t start ringing until August when the company announced the rebirth of the custom-built 33 Stradale, which it called “a genuine manifesto of the Italian brand’s capabilities.” It’s been a busy year for the company which is still finding its footing since its return to the United States.

“The number of inbounds I’m getting now on the 33 is just blowing my mind. It’s funny when you’re selling something that’s exclusive and you just have a couple of early images of it and a digital video. It builds excitement,” Larry Dominique, Senior Vice President and head of the Alfa Romeo brand in North America told Newsweek.

“This just gives you a sense of what we can do as a brand. So that’s what’s exciting in the post reveal. The response to it has been very heartwarming for everybody in the team.”

Alfa Romeo is looking for another fresh start in this part of the world after it made its first return in 2006. The plans, announced by then CEO Sergio Marchionne, began with 2008’s Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione limited-edition supercar. It wasn’t until six years later that Alfa added another low-volume specialty car called the 4C coupe. It was followed by Giulia sedan, advertised at the 2017 Super Bowl, and then the Stelvio SUV.

Sales were never groundbreaking, averaging about 18,000 from 2017 to 2021 but only landed at about 12,000 in North America last year. This year it looks to be down further. But the hype is growing, not just about its limited-edition, high-design 33, but for the rest of its modernized products like the Tonale hybrid SUV.

“It’s about design. The best possible thing that we can design both from a beauty point of view, a simplicity point of view, a performance point of view. It’s showcasing to sort of the agility of a brand, and that we’re able to do things outside of our normal process. And I wouldn’t say every brand has that level of flexibility,” said Dominique.

Alfa Romeo lived on two and a half cars (the two-seat 4C, Giulia and Stelvio) for many years. Dominique landed at the brand in 2021 and took over the North American operations. It now has Tonale for three vehicles in three high volume segments. Dominique also said the brand has five new vehicles coming in the next six years in high-volume premium segments. That includes a three-row SUV designed specifically for the U.S. market, engineers from the company told Newsweek.

“Despite solid and attractive products, Alfa Romeo continues facing challenges connecting with consumers amidst well-established luxury competitors in the U.S. market. The brand sold almost 24,000 units in 2018 in the U.S., but by 2022, sales slipped to under 13,000 units,” Paul Waatti, manager of industry analysis at AutoPacific told Newsweek.

“Tonale is pivotal in establishing brand relevance in the U.S. and global markets. It aims to attract Millennials with luxury performance as a compelling alternative to German rivals’ entry-level products. The 33 Stradale serves as a halo product and a marketing tool to generate excitement around the brand and invite new interest into showrooms. There is clear momentum building behind the brand, but it needs a continued influx of captivating products to flourish,” said Waatti.

And North America is one of Alfa Romeo’s two main markets, along with Europe. It sells vehicles elsewhere including China and Latin America, but it is the only premium global brand for Stellantis. Maserati is considered the global luxury brand.

“North America is probably about half the size, or a little under half of what Europe sells. But they’re also a year ahead of us with Tonale. They launched Tonale in mid ’22. We just launched it now. So North America is probably about 30 percent of the global business and growing from that standpoint,” said Dominique.

Its North American strategy has understandably changed over the past decade. The original plan was to grow the brand here with multiple vehicles in the 2010s. But then the investment slowed down before the Stellantis merger.

“When I came in 2021 I had a couple of key objectives. Get us profitable, build on quality and customer satisfaction, build stability around the brand and then plan for the future. In the first two and a half years we raised average transaction price around 26 percent,” Dominque said.

It also went from second to last in the J.D. Power Sales Satisfaction Index to number one. It went from last in the J.D. Power Customer Satisfaction Index to second quartile in just a year and a half. It also came in number one on initial quality in the premium segment.

“And the reason that’s important is because if you don’t meet those core criteria, you can’t get on consideration list regardless of your awareness. We wanted to build those fundamentals and now with Tonale coming to market and now our pivot to electrification with the next Stelvio and Giulia we’re really moving the brand forward. We’re stable, we’re profitable, we’re delivering quality. So now it’s about getting that growth in the portfolio,” said Dominique.

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