2008-02-02

Free advice for Alfa Romeo

According to some news sources, Sergio Marchionne, the CEO of FIAT, has Luca De Meo to turn around Alfa Romeo or else.

Well, here i some free advice. The 159 sales failed because you, Alfa Romeo, went after the wrong market. If we were interested in driving the kind of car the target audience of the 159 wants to drive, we'd drive that, because honestly, "bland" is not what Alfa does best. The target audience of the 159 doesn't want an Alfa Romeo because the target audience of the 159 is guided by neither passion nor rationality. They want their cars bland and safe and with the same symbol on the front as their last car. An Alfa is not really an option for that audience.

Note that when I say "bland" I am not talking about the looks. The looks are great.

And to be quite honest, the 159 was a real turkey. Yes, still more beautiful than anything produced by the the other car manufacturers in the same segment, and more reliable than any Alfa that came before it -- but it is a real lard-ass. The thing is too heavy. Plain and simple. Within 2 minutes of getting into it I realized that "yeah, this isn't really working for me, I am not going to spend money on this". The thing is too damn heavy and that spoils the fun. At least for me. The feel is gone. The only thing separating this from an Audi is that the interior doesn't immediately make me want to smack the guy who designed it.

Although front wheel drive, I liked the 156. I have one. I love it. Although it has an ugly, fat, lower lip, the lines are wonderful. Few cars look this elegant. And it drives well. You want to know why it drives well? Because it weighs significantly less that the 159. In fact the balance and the feel of the 156 is so nice that if a slightly heavy person gets into the back seat, I can feel his or her weight on the steering wheel and my bottom.

If you want to be successful, you have to start with your fan-base. Stop ignoring your enthusiasts.

What do we drive when we want to have fun?

I'll give you a hint: it sure as hell isn't the 159.

When we want to have fun, we drive older Alfas. Preferably transaxle Alfas like the Alfetta and the Alfa 75. Sure, both of them dated designs. The 75 looks like a carton of milk, but have you driven one, Luca? Have you ever set foot in an Alfa 75 and driven it hard? Pick up the phone and call Ron Simons. Ask him if he can lend you one for a few fast laps around the Nordschleife, and you'll see what I mean.

The tip is: go back to your roots. Take a long hard look at the Alfetta and the 75 and then start over. Or perhaps even further back. The GTVs of old, the Bertones. Remember those? They even look the part. They have respectable testicular fortitude. Even people who know nothing about cars turn around and look at them.

Get rid of the clowns that fattened the 159 to the point where it was all show and no go and bring in people who are passionate about something other than the packaging and ticking off the consumer focus group boxes. Important cars aren't made by focus groups. Pointless cars are. If you want to make pointless cars then go to the US and get one of their bland, soap-shaped, empty hulls with bad suspension. It is a great market for shit cars. Continue down that road and you will eventually lose all your primary customers, and eventually, all your customers. Alfas do not sell because of your marketing. They sell because people want do drive cars rather than glorified cattle-carriages.

Get some engineers and get it right! The engine goes to the front, the gearbox goes in the back and you make it rear wheel drive. You give it 50/50 weight distribution and you make it light. You make it very light. It should be lighter than the 156. Ideally no more than 1100 to 1200kg. Yes, you heard me: innovate. Stop slacking off in the engineering department, take out all the crap you don't need and put the passion back in. End of story.

2 comments:

  1. You're on the nail there. I used to own a 2L 156 (till I was relieved of it by a car thief, and I couldnt go back). It was the sweetest car Ive ever driven and the most beautiful to both look at and simply to sit in, IMO not yet surpassed though the brerra is close. But to make it 1-200Kg lighter - that would be something....

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  2. @Jonathan: The Brera is a bit on the heavy side, but it did impress me a bit.

    A friend of mine has a 3.2 litre V6 Brera and I have driven it perhaps 1000-1200km. On twisty roads you do feel its weight and it can't really compete with a light 1.6 147 that has had the suspension uprated and the airbox modified. The extra power doesn't really help when you have to corner all that weight.

    But I got a big surprise when driving it on a wet race track. I was first on the pit-lane and saw several track rigged older Alfas and two (non-rigged) Maseratis behind me. My thinking was "ok, I'll drive calmly and let them pass on the straight on the far side".

    I arrived at the far side straight, checked my mirrors, checked my blind zones: nothing. The Brera had easily outrun them on the slippery track -- and I was not even pushing it. It is *really* easy to drive on slippery surfaces.

    I suspect that a lot of car reviewers care more about how a car looks on track. All Alfas tend lean over quite a lot, but it doesn't really compromise the grip.

    Also I really like the steering on a lot of Alfas. After driving a Nissan 350Z for about two weeks I got back in my 156 and was struck by how incredibly wonderful the steering is. Just the right amount of sensitivity and connection to the road surface.

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