An Italian Legend Returns to America: Alfa Romero

An Italian sports car legend has returned to America after a 20-year absence: Alfa Romero. Alfa has started its first model in the U.S. since 2008, the 4C, and around 500 of the $70,000 sports cars were shipped to dealers in June.

Not Your Father's Alpha Romero the 4C looks  like an Italian supercar.

Not Your Father’s Alpha Romero the 4C looks like an Italian supercar.

The launch edition comes in two colors, red and white, but they look nothing like that little car Dustin Hoffman drove in The Graduate. Instead, these are high-tech driving machines that have more in common with the latest generation of Ferrari or Maserati supercars than the tiny sports cars of the ’60s. Interestingly enough, Maserati and Ferrari are also part of the new Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Company.

More Alpha Romero models are expected to appear in the fall. They’ll first be sold at the Fiat and Maserati, but probably make appearances at Dodge and Chrysler dealers at some point.

The 4C is designed as a sort of working man’s alternative to the supercars. The vehicle’s body is made from lightweight carbon fiber and has a 237 turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. The rear engine is kept in a special glass roof compartment behind the seat.

The 4C sounds more like a street racer than a classic sports car. It looks exotic, but it seems like something you might take to a street race. News reports indicate that Chrysler Fiat would like to get the price down to $54,000, meaning they’re going after the growing luxury car market.

Interestingly enough, the 4C, which does have a paddle driven automatic transmission, is supposed to be very fun to drive. My guess is that this car will find an audience, perhaps with aging street racers who want something fancier than Japanese economy boxes.

The New Fiat Chrysler Powered by Debt

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is taking on a lot of risks in its move into the U.S. It needs a bestselling car, and fast. Its swashbuckling boss, Sergio Marchionne, is financing the new combine largely with debt, according to The Wall Street Journal. Marchionne has even said he might not take the company public, and instead, finance it totally with debt. That plan will be a bold one because Fiat Chrysler’s debt is now about 6.6 billion Euros ($9 billion US), which is worth more than 1.23 times the company’s earnings.

Marchionne’s arrogance rivals that of Tesla’s Elon Musk and the bosses at Volkswagen. He’s working on a plan that calls for Fiat Chrysler to sell 6 million vehicles a year by 2018. It currently sells around 4.4 million, so that sounds like Marchionne is planning to go to China in a big way. China is now the world’s largest auto market.

The Journal reports that Marchionne’s plans include the revival of Alpha Romero and a heavy emphasis on Jeep. Fiat Chrysler will soon begin building jeeps in China. The company needs premium vehicles in order to be competitive in an auto market driven by Americans and Chinese’s seemingly insatiable demand for luxury vehicles.

Not Your Father's Dodge Dart  the 2016 AWD SRT Turbo is powered by Alpha Romero technology

Not Your Father’s Dodge Dart the 2016 AWD SRT Turbo is powered by Alpha Romero technology

If you don’t have $72,000 to shell out for a 4C. there’s already a cheaper and equally stylish Alpha-derived vehicle on America’s streets that’s just as fast and fun to drive. The latest version of the legendary Dodge Dart is derived from the Alpha Romero Giuletta. Darts start at $16,495, so they are cheaper. It looks like Fiat Chrysler is committed to America in a big way.

Now we have to ask ourselves a really huge question: Is the global car market big enough for another player? Marchionne’s thinking is that Chrysler will need to sell around 6 million cars a year to survive. That’s a tall order for a company floating on a sea of debt.