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Stellantis honcho Carlos Tavares has proven himself adroit at the turnaround. GM had lost money on its European Opel/Vauxhall unit for two decades before Tavares took the helm at Peugeot-Citroen (PSA) and bought GM’s European arm. Tavares restored Opel/Vauxhall to profit in a year. Within 18 months of PSA’s “merger” with Fiat-Chrysler being official, we’re no longer hearing doomsday stories from some of the perpetually troubled marques under the new umbrella. All of the Italians — Alfa Romeo, Abarth, Fiat, Lancia, Maserati — say they’re doing well, Alfa Romeo is back in the black and planning a range that will be more accessible and more fun to own. Having established Tavares’ mastery of the basics, we’ve yet to find out if he knows how to transform a brand, which is what all of the Italian automakers need. At Alfa Romeo, the North American heads were told Automotive News that they’re still establishing the foundations of a revolution. In doing so, the brand sounds more like the kind of premium automaker it’s been aspiring to be since its return in 2008.
Vincent Noirbent, VP of product planning and transformation for Alfa Romeo on this continent, said the automaker’s working a 10-year plan to place itself as Stellantis’ global premium brand below Maserati’s all-out luxury. We don’t know how that’s going to work with Lancia in Europe, but we don’t get Lancia, so that potential clash is out of our jurisdiction. Autonews phrased Noirbent’s message as, “Customer satisfaction and vehicle quality are arguably ‘more important’ to the brand than sales as it works to build momentum in the US” He also said it’s more important to build a “sound business” built around the strengths of the brand and that doesn’t rely on incentives. A Miami dealer described comments from Alfa Romeo North America boss Larry Dominque as wanting to “make the cars right first, make the [ownership] experience better, and build the value of the brand so somebody will pay an extra $100 a month.”
In an interview from Pebble Beach, Dominique said a luxury service experience and experiential marketing would also be involved. This will include “concierge services, pick-up and drop-off service for test drives,” and when visiting a dealer, “it’s the kind of thing where not only could you come in to see beautiful cars, but also do Italian cooking lessons and wine tastings.”
All the work will take time. Light refreshes for 2023 don’t hide the facts that the Giulia sedan is seven years old, the Stelvio SUV is six years old, and the more accessible Tonale isn’t here yet, which could explain why brand sales are down in the US this year from the roughly 18,300 average units for each of the past three years. Alfa Romeo’s climb to 27th out of 33 makes in JD Powers’ 2022 Initial Quality Survey, a single place above its 2021 ranking. However, the automaker scored top spot in the 2022 JD Power Sales Satisfaction Index among premium brands, the gauge of customer happiness with the dealer experience putting it ahead of Porsche, Lexus, Cadillac, and Infiniti. Noirbent said of the accolade, “Now, when you’re No. 1, there’s only one way [to go], so it is never-ending. We need to make sure that next year we repeat that. We need to make sure that we perfect our processes.”