The facts are in and the Alfa Romeo 4C is a breathtaking car. It's beautiful, it's fast, it's Italian and it's coming to the U.S. But it's still going to be a niche car. What happens when/if more mainstream Alfas show up after a two decade absence? Who's going to buy them?
There's the whole issue of Fiat getting serious with Alfa as a BMW rival and a barely formulated plan to shift the whole lineup to rear-wheel drive. Alfa doesn't want to be a second tier brand, it wants to be selling direct rivals to the 3 and 5-series, among other big sellers in the luxury field. Sergio Marchionne might be a romantic about the brand, but he believes Alfa needs to do well for the sake of the whole of Fiat-Chrysler, too.
For a kickoff, it's not quite certain where you'd buy one. The 4C, doing battle with stuff like the Porsche Cayman, looks like it's going to be sold through Maserati dealers. Unless you live in affluent areas, they aren't exactly on every corner. By contrast, there are nearly 200 places to buy a new Porsche in this country.
The 4C is speciality, but it's clear the future cars want to be mainstream. They can't be sold/repaired just through Maserati dealerships.
But there's a bigger issue with where Alfa is going to find customers. Audi may be cleaning up in the luxury field right now, but the top three in this country are still BMW, Mercedes and Lexus. Infiniti wants to be taken seriously, too. Volvo is stuck in a rut, but it's plotting a comeback. Acura is still doing it's thing. All of these brands are more established in the U.S. than Alfa Romeo. And their future products are more cemented as well.
Is the Alfa customer going to be an Italian car aficionado? Small market, probably. Is he or she going to want something different than the BMW-Mercedes-Lexus norm? Audi, Infiniti, Volvo, etc. also use that line. Do they want people who love to drive? Cadillac is fighting BMW for that slice of the market. See where Alfa fits in anywhere, regardless of whether their cars are front or rear-wheel drive?
Alfa has previously made the mistake of thinking it can attract Americans by just showing up. The Milano was supposed to be the Alfa for everyone and elevate the brand beyond its meager sales. That didn't work, so they tried the 164 (and even sold it through some Chrysler dealerships). That failed, too, despite Europe liking the 164. Shouting about that in TV commercials did nothing, either.
I want Alfa to succeed in the U.S. because more choice is good and the blind march of customers to the big luxury three has to stop. Alfa is an underdog, too. I like that. The last thing the world needs, though, is a BMW clone. Sergio should know the biggest reason anyone buys an Alfa is because they want one, not because it necessarily makes sense. Alfa's niche is that it's desirable, which is a trait quickly vanishing from the luxury car market.
But it's not going to get easier the longer the wait is.
Photo: Alfa Romeo