Alfa Romeo is a stylish and sporting brand, with more than a century of history behind them. With a current three car line up spearheaded by the carbon tub 4C sports coupé, they are mounting there resurgence against their main rivals, BMW, Audi and Volkswagen. While there are many manufacturers which compete with Alfa Romeo in the super-mini and small car market segment, Alfa Romeo see themselves as a premium brand. While the Ford Focus is a popular choice among small car buyers, the badge is still its greatest enemy. If Alfa Romeo wants to compete both globally and successfully, they need to be on par or better than the mighty Germans.
Currently Alfa Romeo has a three car line up consisting of a super-mini (MiTo), a hatchback (Giulietta) and a low volume carbon chassis sports coupé, the 4C. The MiTo competes with BMW’s sub brand ‘Mini’, Audi’s A1 and Volkswagen’s Polo. Interestingly, the Audi is based on the Volkswagen but aims slightly up market. The Giulietta contends with the rear wheel drive BMW 1 series, Audi’s A3, and Volkswagen Golf. The 4C is Alfa Romeo’s one true stand out, it doesn’t have any direct adversaries, being that no other car maker at this price point produces a sports car with a carbon chassis. We can make comparisons to cars that perform similarly, like the Porsche Cayman/S and Lotus Exige S but none that match the technological tour de force of construction that is displayed in the Alfa Romeo.
The real trouble for Alfa Romeo is shaking off the brand’s preconceptions that many people still hold (reliability and rust mainly). In 2012 Alfa Romeo ran an advertisement campaign which was supposed to highlight the reasons why they were better than their competitors. They compared the safety, fuel efficiency, environmental benefits and technology of the MiTo and Giulietta. Alfa Romeo UK head of brand, Damien Dally, said: “Customers appreciate the stylish lines and sleek design of an Alfa Romeo, but due to preconceived misconceptions, some turn to our competitors, wrongly believing they offer a better proposition.” (1) He wanted to prove to the customers that they offered more than their German counterparts.
The main gripes that motoring journalists have had with this current generation of Alfa Romeo’s has been their poor interior quality. This is a huge downfall for the brand when trying to compete with the likes of VW and Audi. They make interiors that are not only luxurious and well designed but completely bullet proof ( the Mark 7 Golf has a fantastically constructed interior for the price). Alfa Romeo has been criticized for its poor interior plastics throughout the range, even in its flagship 4C, unspeakable in a £45,000 (£52,000 launch version) car. In the What Car? UK review of the 4C, they said, “Sadly, the hard plastics used for the dashboard are less appealing, and it’s a pity the gear-shift paddles aren’t made of metal or carbon.”. The Giulietta was also lambasted for its poor pedal and steering wheel layout. Carbuyer.co.uk said that “the pedals are badly positioned too close together and there’s no space to rest your left foot, which makes driving uncomfortable. And strangely the pedals are too close to the driver, while the steering wheel is too far away.” This was unfortunately echoed throughout multiple reviews.
The BMW cars, the 1 Series and ‘Mini’ both have the Alfa Romeo’s licked for driving dynamics. Auto Express describes the Mini as “Compact, nippy, responsive, easy to see out of and with a tight turning circle, it ran rings around the opposition.” The rear drive BMW 1 series was always going to have a slight edge in terms of driving dynamics when compared to the front wheel drive Giulietta, but Auto Express said, “the BMW 1 series rivals the VW Golf, with a quality interior, fun handling and efficient engines”.
One of Alfa Romeo’s greatest competitors is itself. It doesn’t have the range of cars needed to sustain high enough sales figures. They sold 101,000 vehicles worldwide in 2012, BMW sold 1,861,826 in the same year. The introduction of a halo car (4C) is the start of Alfa Romeo’s plan to attract new customers and a return to the United States of America will hopefully boost sales once the range is bolstered with new models. Alfa Romeo needs a BMW 3 series/Audi A4/Mercedes C Class rival to be competitive, as well as a small SUV to bolster sales and fill a huge gap in their range.
Alfa Romeo’s design and style is universally praised, if they can increase their model range, improve the quality of their interiors and the dynamics of their cars, there is no reason why they wont see an increase in sales. Easier said than done, in this unstable economic climate and vastly changing market place.
However, there is hope, as I explain in my Alfa Romeo Future post: https://auto2014.wordpress.com/2014/01/24/future-of-alfa-romeo/