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Marchionne Wants Alfa Romeo to Graduate to Bigger Role in U.S.

Posted by Dale Buss on September 24, 2012 06:13 PM

Think Sergio Marchionne doesn't thank the American taxpayer every day in his heart that his Fiat was able to pick up Chrysler for a song three years ago? As the Fiat part of his company sinks ever lower into the morasse of the European auto market, Chrysler has revived under Marchionne's leadership to become the financial workhorse of the merged entity.

Now, the CEO of Fiat (who was recently profiled on 60 Minutes) is executing the next phase of his company's ever-increasing dependency on Chrysler, with plans to use Chrysler engineers, plants and dealers to help relaunch Fiat's sporty Alfa Romeo brand in the United States in 2014.

Marchionne plans to give the brand some of its own engines and a spicey Italian identity with American consumers even as he economizes by having one of the first new Alfa Romeo models, for example, built in the same Chrysler Illinois plant that now assembles the Dodge Dart.

For now, Alfa Romeo is having to cope with the same slumping European market as every other brand there. Even today, at a press conference in Turin, Fiat's hometown, Marchionne remarked that the market hadn't yet reached the bottom of its slump.

And in the meantime, Marchionne also is having to fend off continued rumors that what he'd actually like to do is sell Alfa Romeo, not revive it or export the brand to the U.S. Today he had to reiterate that the brand isn't for sale, after a report said that Volkswagen has visited factories in which Alfa cars are made in Italy.

What Marchionne lately has been telling U.S. dealers and Chrysler executives that he wants to do is make a big splash with new Alfa models in the U.S. and then use that success as a springboard for the brand in China and other global markets. "This is our opportunity to show the world that Fiat-Chrysler can achieve a level of greatness no one could have imagined just a few years ago," Marchionne is said to have intoned at a recent dealership meeting in Las Vegas, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Interestingly, Alfa Romeo first arrived in the U.S. in the Fifties, was acquired by Fiat in 1986, and then left the American market in 1995 due to some of the same sort of quality woes that also chased the Fiat brand from American shores many years ago. An Alfa famously was the car driven by Dustin Hoffman's character in The Graduate.

Think that today's graduate would be advised today that "plastics" is future? Probaby not. Today's career advice might more likely be, "Italian auto brands."

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