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Why Alfa Will Get Credit for Mopar Engineering

by David Zatz on

Analysis. After years of talking about how Dodge and Alfa Romeo are working together on new rear wheel drive cars and crossovers, Fiat Chrysler (FCA) CEO Sergio Marchionne is turning the story over to Harald Wester, head of Alfa Romeo and Maserati and a former VW/Audi executive.

Harald Wester’s version is that all the cars will come entirely from an Italian “skunkworks” led by Ferrari people. The new platform/architecture is named “Giorgio,” presumably to emphasize how Italian it is; most FCA platforms are named by a systems (C-EVO, SCSS, SUSW, etc.)


Why did Mr. Marchionne go from saying (numerous times) the US would lead the engineering of cars that are compact or larger, and that Chrysler and Alfa Romeo would work together? Most likely, because of the Maserati Ghibli.

The Ghibli and Quattroporte obviously shared with the Chrysler 300C, though they are very different in many ways aside from styling. The critics whined about the (best in class) UConnect system, the Chrysler headlight knobs, and just about everything else that seemed American.

There’s little question, looking at surveys or the actual systems, that the Chrysler telematics are better than those of Volkswagen/Audi, but that doesn’t matter. They’re from an icky Chrysler. An American car. Who wants that? (Never mind that the phrase “Italian quality” still provokes laughter.)

Maserati Ghibli interior

Critics tend to be anti-American snobs when it comes to sports cars, and they seem to prefer that expensive cars lend themselves to cheap ones rather than the other way around. It seems anti-American in itself to assume that vieux riche is better than neauveu riche, but there you have it. The result is that, to make Alfa Romeo work, we will probably be told that Dodge’s future cars are watered-down versions of Alfa Romeo cars and SUVs.

Mr. Marchionne may lose his credibility among the Chrysler faithful, including “FCA US LLC” employees, but he doesn’t have much choice. If he says FCA is working as a single company on the new lineup, as it almost certainly is, Alfa Romeo will probably fail. Journalists will call them overpriced Dodges and condemn their “cheap interiors,” then fall over themselves to praise Audi (Volkswagen) and Mercedes.

This means Dodges (and perhaps Jeeps) have to follow the Alfa Romeos to market, and Mr. Marchionne can’t say a word about the reality. Thus, he’s keeping his mouth uncharacteristically closed about the whole thing.

Meanwhile, the Wester story doesn’t really hold up. Can Alfa Romeo really have 2,000 people engineering a full line of cars, from compact to SUVs to large sedans, in a brief timeframe and for a small budget? Is the year still 1960?

Chrysler is almost certainly an engineering partner, especially since they are likely to rely on the same basic platforms, with different engines and other changes to match regional and brand needs — including costs. And oh, the Chrysler road map is not small by any means. We expect their share of the Dodge-Alfa Romeo tie-up to be:

  • A rear wheel drive Dodge Dart
  • A rear wheel drive Dodge Avenger
  • A rear wheel drive Dodge Journey (possibly renamed “Durango”)
  • A new Challenger and Charger
  • Possibly a new Jeep (Compass?)
  • The Grand Cherokee and Wagoneer

They will share parts, but they will be Alfa Romeo parts now. (Maserati is likely to switch over, too, in time, — perhaps even with the Levante — but that’s somehow okay because Alfa Romeo is to be a premium Italian brand, just like Maserati.)

Regardless of who worked on it, the new underpinnings will forever be branded “Giorgio,” credited to Alfa Romeo alone.

If they assigned credit equally, at best we’d have a Ghibli situation — Ghibli is helping Maserati sell far better than in the past, but Maserati is no threat to BMW, Mercedes, Audi, or even Infiniti.

Chrysler TC by Maserati

Mr. Marchionne is probably scared of getting another Chrysler TC by Maserati scenario. Due to Maserati’s delays, Chryslers with TC-based styling launched  first, and rather than having the TC lend a Maserati aura to Chrysler, the TC was poisoned by the association.

From Mr. Marchionne’s worldwide perch, it’s more important to avoid poisoning a high-end, high-profit brand than to avoid alienating Mopar fans, especially since few Americans care, and there are probably an equal number who like the idea of an “Alfa Romeo based” car — just as many liked “Mercedes based” Chryslers.

I suspect it’s painful for Mr. Marchionne, but this is why he’s paid the big bucks.

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