One of the more overlooked aspects of the Fiat-Chrysler marriage is the relationship among its stepchildren, particularly those preppy, boarding school-educated rapscallions known as Maserati and Alfa Romeo co-mingling with its new, scruffier siblings. This family tree may be important if you want an Alfa Romeo 4C, however.
When the Fiat brand returned to the States, it did so within its own dealer network separate from Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram. But sales, advertising and other manufacturing aspects were all handled alongside the American brands in Auburn Hills.
Maserati, which is on the upswing worldwide, isn't. It has a separate office, a separate public relations team and a separate dealer network outside both Fiat and the CJDR stores. If you were to contact Chrysler's public-relations department for a comment about the 300 and the Quattroporte, you'd get all the information about the 300 and be referred elsewhere for the Quattroporte.
I kept that in mind when I saw that Chrysler's PR recently spoke on behalf of what's going on with the Alfa Romeo 4C launch, which led me to believe that more of Alfa's operations were going to move to Auburn Hills. Maybe not. According to Automotive News today, when the 4C comes next year, it might be sold through Maserati dealers.
"Most likely, the Alfa 4C will be sold in the U.S. through the Maserati network," [Harald] Wester, who also is Maserati's CEO, told Automotive News in an e-mail on Thursday, Sept. 26.
Many struggling Fiat dealerships are awaiting the 4C and other Alfa Romeos. But while Wester's revelation may be a blow to Fiat dealers, it raises more questions such as: Will the 4C also be sold at Fiat dealerships? And where will high-volume Alfa Romeos planned for the United States be sold - at Fiat dealerships, Maserati stores or both?
Wester and chief Chrysler spokesman Gualberto Ranieri declined to address the issues.
Well, this is tricky.
On one hand, the 4C isn't primed to become a volume seller like the Fiat 500, so putting it in a showroom with Maserati vehicles that sell modest but respectable numbers sounds like it makes more sense. The Fiat brand is also supposed to gain eight new models over the coming years; Alfa Romeo is supposed to have six. If Fiat is selling 500s without the help of another brand behind it, wouldn't it also make more sense to steer more traffic to Maserati with the help of Alfa Romeo?
On the other hand, there's the Fiat dealer network. Dealers were counting on the new Alfa Romeo coming, and we all knew this. They get to see all the new models before we do! But in the event that every person who buys a Fiat 500 has already bought one, there needs to be another reason for people to come into those dealerships. The 4C was going to be that reason.
As Automotive News says, there's a chance that both Maserati and Fiat dealers could have the Alfa Romeo brand, but I'm thinking that would run against Chrysler's overall philosophy of dealers being a one-stop shop for all brands. More than 90% of all dealers under Chrysler have all four of the American brands. So why split one of the Italian brands among two networks?
Here's Maserati's dealer network. In many places, you might be screwed. Then again, maybe Alfa Romeo will have an air of exclusivity if they're sold at fewer dealers. Regardless, time is ticking for Chrysler and Fiat to figure this out.