As Alfa Romeo Comes Ashore, Fiat Chrysler Success May Be Just Beginning

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Chrysler keeps outselling expectations in the US market, is preparing to bring luxury marque Alfa Romeo back to America, and is getting its financial house in order. It’s a good time to be globetrotting Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne.

He’ll have to keep globetrotting too. Next month the new company is planning to officially launch by incorporating in the Netherlands, being headquartered in London and having its main stock listing in New York.

Meanwhile, Fiat Chrysler’s cash cow will be headquartered in Auburn Hills, Mich.—Chrysler. Just five years after Fiat took the carcass of Chrysler from the US government and revived it, Marchionne and his lieutenants, their employees and dealers continue to enjoy a winning streak represented by 52 straight months of rising sales. Chrysler and other automakers report their August sales tomorrow.[more]

Chrysler also has been profitable in 11 of the last 12 quarters, in no small measure because it has succeeded in getting the most out of marketing, with just a handful of all-new vehicles and mostly overhauls. The major new entries, such as the Jeep Cherokee, have been big hits. Chrysler’s brands are taking sales and market share away from just about every other major automaker.

In some ways the more difficult work begins now. Marchionne last spring laid out a very ambitious five-year plan for grabbing US and global market share which included a vastly expanded role for the Chrysler brand in the US, continued momentum for Jeep and significant footholds in America for Fiat-owned luxury brands Maserati and Alfa Romeo.

Marchionne just underscored the importance of Alfa Romeo by moving Reid Bigland from helming US sales to heading Alfa Romeo. Fiat Chrysler is promising to bring the marque back to the US after a 20-year absence with a true luxury lineup consisting of eight high-volume Alfa nameplates arriving between 2016 and 2018 and dozens of dealers with dedicated Alfa Romeo showrooms. The first batch of 87 Alfa Romeo dealerships—most of which already sell Maserati and Fiat brands—will receive the Alfa Romeo 4C mid-engine two-seater, which will retail starting at $55,195.

Fiat Chrysler is counting on dealers to step up to service true luxury customers even though actual Alfa Romeo sales may trickle at first. “I think [dealers] have got to be closer to what this luxury intender [customer] may require,” Peter Grady, Chrysler’s head of dealer network development and CEO of its Maserati brand, told Automotive News. Maserati also is expanding its North American dealer network and its sales expectations as well.

Overall, Fiat Chrysler is just beginning to field some of its best-ever new vehicles, many of them based on Fait platforms, as the surge by the seventh-biggest global automaking combination enters a new phase. So while some analysts believe that the US automotive-sales boom will start leveling off beginning this year, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Fiat Chrysler will level off too.

• Connect with Dale on Twitter: @daledbuss

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