We caught up with Fiat group CEO Sergio Marchionne at the world debut of the new Alfa Romeo Giulia in Milan, Italy this week. He acknowledges that the car is a watershed moment for the Italian brand. He told us these six pearls of wisdom on the make-or-break 3-series rival from Italy.
1) On Alfa Romeo’s malaise
'Over the past 30 years, Alfa has been suffering with a sense of unfulfillment. Leaving it to compete against other mass-market brands would have meant betraying the spirit and values of the brand itself. Giving a voice to the real Alfa Romeo was a moral imperative. Alfa Romeo is our Turandot [referencing Bocelli's operatic song that accompanied the unveiling in Areses]. It is a masterpiece that has been a long time in coming. And over the past two years, the brand has seen an exceptional transformation. From ice princess and perennial quest to a triumph of art and passion. We can finally say that today is the first day of a new era for Alfa. The brand is on the verge of retaking its rightful position in the market. It will once again be one of the leading symbols of Italian engineering and style, an icon of Italy's technological excellence and creative spirit.'
2) Why Chrysler has saved the day
'Until recently, the former Fiat was not equipped to implement the strategy we are implementing. It lacked the basic requirements to successfully relaunch the Alfa Romeo brand: the necessary financial resources, the technical capability, and a global distribution network. It is because of the merger with Chrysler that we now have all three of those elements.'
3) On the new Giulia Cloverleaf as a sporting icon
'The new Giulia is the first model of an Alfa Romeo which is once again pure and authentic. It is the quintessential example of what people expect from such a prestigious brand. I could describe the car with some specs: it has a 510hp [503bhp] six-cylinder engine, it can accelerate from 0-100kmh (0-62mph) in 3.9sec and it has a 2.99 weight-to-power ratio. Or I could tell you that the Giulia is the perfect car. But that would make it sound as though it were unremarkable and easy to copy.'
4) On the skunkworks approach of quarantining the Giulia’s R&D engineering team
'This made it possible to concentrate all the skills in one place and reduce development times. But there was a more profound reason: for such a revolutionary project, we needed the team to start with a clean sheet of paper, unobstructed by existing rules and structures. We needed an environment where people were completely free to think big and create. That process is behind every single part of the new Giulia. The entire process - how it was conceived, designed, developed - sets the benchmark for an entirely new approach to creating cars. When it came to resurrecting a legendary brand like Alfa, it was the only approach to take. This will be our new standard.'
5) Alfa Romeo: the future
'We intend to invest more than €5 billion in an aggressive product development plan. The Giulia is just the beginning. Another seven models are to follow over the next three years. We are targeting worldwide sales of 400,000 vehicles by 2018 - that's nearly six times 2015’s. For any other brand, a similar growth target would be impossible to contemplate. We believe this target fully reflects the strength of a brand like Alfa Romeo.'
6) On Marchionne’s emotional attachment side of Alfa
'It is no mystery that Alfa is one of the projects I have been most involved in, both emotionally and operationally. It is one of the most important of my career. Alfa represents a unique business opportunity. And I quite like business!'