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Alfa's U.S. return likely for 2012, Marchionne says

Tue, 16 Feb 2010 00:00:00 -0800

Fiat's on-again, off-again plan to return Alfa Romeo to the United States is on again, this time with a target date of 2012.

A Chrysler Group spokesman has confirmed remarks made by CEO Sergio Marchionne in Toronto.

“I'm a lot more confident now that Alfa Romeo will reconstitute a product offering that is acceptable globally, and more in particular in the United States and Canada,” Marchionne was quoted as saying Friday. “There is a strong likelihood that the brand will be back here within the next 24 months,” press reports said.

Alfa exited the United States in 1995 with a reputation for poor quality.

A 2003 Alfa comeback was announced a decade ago as part of Fiat's alliance with General Motors. That partnership has been since dissolved, and subsequent statements from Fiat executives indicating a return haven't borne fruit.

Marchionne's latest view on Alfa's U.S. future follows last month's appointment of Harald Wester as the sports car maker's CEO. Wester, 51, is the fifth Alfa chief appointed by Marchionne during his six years at Fiat.

Wester added the Alfa job to a growing list of titles, which includes chief executive of Maserati and Abarth, as well as chief technical officer at Fiat S.p.A. and Fiat Group Automobiles S.p.A.

In appointing Wester, Marchionne called on his enormous commitment and a proven ability to “bring strong leadership capabilities and solid technical experience and know-how” to a strategic review of Alfa.

The review is due to be completed by April 21, when Fiat will unveil a plan for the group for the next four years.

Chrysler platforms

Sources say that Fiat is considering broadening Alfa's product portfolio using platforms from Chrysler Group, the U.S. automaker now controlled by Fiat through a 20 percent stake. Fiat bought Alfa in 1986.

The plan calls for using Fiat-Chrysler “compact-wide” architecture to underpin a front-drive mid-sized sedan and station wagon to replace the Europe-only 159.

The two new models, dubbed Giulia, would be built in the United States starting in mid-2012, the sources have said.

Alfa's future plans also include a rear-drive, large sedan based on the Chrysler 300C platform to replace the 166. This model, set to debut in 2013, may be built in Brampton, Ontario, along with the Chrysler 300C and Dodge Charger.

In Toronto, Marchionne indicated that Canada would play a major role in the future of Alfa and said production in the country was possible.

Alfa's newest product, the Giulietta hatchback to debut next month at the Geneva auto show to replace the 147, is not part of the current scenario for North America.

Alfa's new-car sales have declined steeply in the past decade as its range aged and new products were delayed.

Last year, Alfa's global sales declined 1 percent to 102,000 units, according to Fiat. That's about half the 203,000 units sold in 2000.

Marchionne spoke in advance of a Toronto charity event in support of earthquake relief for Abruzzo, Italy. Marchionne was born in Chieti, Abruzzo, and raised in Toronto.

By Luca Ciferri- Automotive News