Saturday, December 9, 2017



As I was publishing my Giulia post it was announced that Alfa Romeo would re-enter Formula One in 2018, providing engines for the Sauber team. However, for a company mired in huge debt, like FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES (FCA), this announcement is not as grand a gesture as first appears.

Sauber Grand Prix is an existing Ferrari customer, and uses the ‘Customer’ F1 engines, so Alfa Romeo’s involvement will be to provide Alfa Romeo engine covers; the paintjob; and a few Alfa Romeo decals – no actual cash. The engines will continue to be provided by Maranello, but I’m assured they will be virtually identical to those used by the Scuderia.

After inking this deal, FCA Chairman Sergio Marchionne is now trying to interest another F1 team in using ‘Maserati’ engines, on the same basis. Once again, they would be Ferrari ‘Customer’ engines, with the associated Maserati branding – no cash.

I see a strategy here – Sergio wants to achieve three things from these agreements:

    1. He wants Alfa Romeo and Maserati to appeal to younger buyers, and sees F1 as the path to this result.
    2. He wants a ‘cheap’ branding deal, which provides a presence, achieved by using Ferrari ‘Customer engines’, but also the afterglow that comes with an F1 team being associated with two great Italian brands, which enjoyed  historic F1 successes.
    3. He wants to ‘fatten up’ the two divisions, which along with (hopefully) improved sales numbers, and the gloss and glitz of being in F1 - will ease the way for both divisions to be sold, and reduce FCA’s massive borrowings.
F1 glory came in 1951 with Fangio winning in the Alfetta Tipo 159. Thirty years later Bruno Giacomelli competed in Alfa Romeo's last F1 car.

As I have written before, FCA faces massive debt obligations, and with stagnant Group sales, and the need for ongoing investment, he needs to do ‘something’ to reduce debt. He tried to find another western car manufacturer to ‘buy’ (ahem: ‘make a joint venture with’) FCA – that ended nowhere.

The investment analysts have convinced Sergio that Jeep and Ram are saleable, and having sold off Ferrari, maybe selling Alfa Romeo and Maserati would work too.

Currently Ferrari’s market cap is around USD$21 billion; FCA’s market cap is just USD$18 billion. The current valuations of the divisions (according to analysts) are: Jeep USD$22 billion; Ram USD$11.2 billion; Maserati USD$3.5 billion.

You might ask, if you sell all these nameplates, what’s left? Well, just severely wounded Chrysler and FIAT divisions; but with all the debt paid off, that leaves funds available to develop all-new cars for the remaining, debilitated, divisions. That way the Italians get to keep FIAT; and the Americans get to keep Chrysler.

The man with a lust for Alfa Romeo (and maybe Maserati) is Dr. Ferdinand Piech, but VWAG is so wounded by the mounting cost of ‘Dieselgate’, it no longer has the money.

Guess who’s left in the bidding ring? The Chinese, of course. My guess is that a couple of years from now we will see a similar deal to Volvo being acquired by Geely.

That may sound disappointing, but for fans of Alfa Romeo and Maserati, it may be the only hope for survival of the marques.

Thursday, December 7, 2017


I will start with this: “Driving the new Giulia is an experience of symphonic dimension.”
This post will be as much a pictorial tribute to Centro Stile’s masterpiece - as it will be opinions on the dynamics, and the style of the car.
The reason that I photographed the car in a variety of locations and light levels was to amplify the subtlety of the surfaces and the overall, cohesive blend of stylish design with an aggressive stance.

It’s a surprise how many of the bold flourishes, apparent in the studio sketches, have transferred to the final design.

Everything about the Giulia seems to have been absolutely ‘designed for purpose’.
If you follow Driving and Life regularly you will not be surprised at me ‘gushing’ about this new Alfa Romeo, because I have invested a lot of my own emotional capital in the fact that this car needed to be ‘right’ in every way.

Sorry to disappoint the knockers and spoilers, but I think this car is absolutely what it needed to be. The spec, performance, handling, styling and overall result is spot-on!

Whilst I am thrilled with Alessandro Maccolini’s exterior design, I am just as delighted with the interior design, directed by the very talented Inna Kondakova, and her team.

It is the essence of simple elegance, and an excellent choice of materials. It is also a practical interior, because everything is where it should be, but I think I must reserve special praise for the central console and its integration to the centre stack of controls.

By now, you realize this post is a love-fest, but really, the end result of the challenge facing the team; the design and technical attributes; and the finish, is a triumph for Alfa Romeo.

The trim fit’n’finish margins are outstanding, and the overall effect of the interior visage is subtle and calming.

Weight-saving was a big item on the agenda when the technical team, led by Ferrari’s Technical Director Philippe Krief, settled on a unique aluminium front and rear suspension layout, and in the Quadrifoglio, carbon fibre for a number of body panels.

The Giulia is marginally smaller than the 159, and lighter, so that the base 2.0L turbo four cylinder has a head-start in its performance delivery. The torque curve also delivers impressive flexibility, and the ZF 8-speed auto is very well-calibrated for the job.

In fact, despite the ‘noise’ around the ‘optional packages’ you can order, the base car delivers everything at a very competitive price – both in Australia and the USA.

However, there are some things you miss, like the excellent aluminium paddles, which are column-mounted.

Like its big brothers from the Maserati and Ferrrari families they are a joy to use in high performance driving. So, maybe the 'Sport' package is a worthwhile investment.

During my test drive south of Sydney, I stopped for Minestrone for lunch at the excellent Austi Beach Café at Austinmeer Beach.

Put it on your list when you’re touring along the south coast – excellent fare and a great view of the ocean.

Do I think FCA’s €5 billion investment will pay off? Well, in terms of delivering an Alfa Romeo true to the spirit of the marque, it has certainly achieved all the primary targets.

However, unless FCA can drive up Alfa Romeo sales eventually to 250,000 units a year, the real value of the investment will not be realised.

I fear that in retrospect the investment will be seen as folly.

Having made this observation, none of these serious considerations deters me from feeling enormous joy and satisfaction after my 300km behind the wheel.

This Giulia is what Alfa Romeo needed, to reinforce its credentials. The company has got it right – in every area. 
Thank God for that. The entire Alfisti movement can now celebrate in high spirits at the company’s achievement.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017


The development of the Alfa Romeo Giulia is almost as complex, convoluted and surprising as the takeover of Chrysler by FIAT SpA and various decisions driven by FCA leader Sergio Marchionne.

Sergio Marchionne had been appointed CEO of FIAT SpA in 2004, taking over a company where every division, except Ferrari, was struggling. Sales were diving for all the brands; R&D budgets had been slashed; the platforms and powertrains were old, and FIAT was giving a solid appearance of sliding down the nearest drain!

In 2011, when FIAT SpA acquired 53.5% of Chrysler, Marchionne was named Chairman and CEO of the merged company, called Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA Group).

Marchionne quickly identified the problems faced by FCA Group, but as not only Chrysler’s, but FIAT’s funds for capital spending were limited, the only way out of the mess was massive borrowings. Even today FCA Group’s net debt stands at USD$6 billion.

At the same time as Marchionne was indulging in hocking FCA as loan collateral, he was also actively seeking a takeover of FCA by a bigger group. One approach was turned down very publicily, when GM Chair, Mary Barra, issued a press release fending off Sergio's blunt approach.

Because of profits from Jeep, and RAM truck brands, Chrysler was managing to ‘wash its face’, but there was precious little to be spent on totally new cars, so it was managing with a very tired range of Dodge and Chrysler models - the only bright star being the 300C.

The 300C was designed around an ageing Mercedes-Benz platform, but its aggressive stance, bold design and blistering acceleration of its high performance SRT version managed to boost sales of the whole range to a healthy level, allowing Chrysler to remain in the public eye, as one of America's Big Three.

In 2012 Marchionne turned his attention to Alfa Romeo, and by June 2013 he had signed a deal with Mazda, to make an Alfa Romeo Spider based on the forthcoming MX-5, and built alongside the Japanese sports car in Hiroshima.

However, by late 2013 everything changed. FIAT dealers were crying out for something new to sell, besides the wildly successful, but low profit-Fiat Cinquecento, and Marchionne had come to the conclusion that continuing to produce Alfa Romeos derived from ageing FIAT platforms was never going to fully capitalise on the potential which the famous Milanese brand promised.

At that point, Marchionne pulled off an amazing switch – telling Mazda that the new sports car would be badged as the FIAT 124 Spider, with an Abarth spin-off version.

He announced that “some things come from a special place, and Alfa Romeos must be built in Italy.”

I’m indebted to the Head of Exterior Design for Alfa Romeo, Alessandro Maccolini (left), Head of PR for Design, Francesca Montini and Historical Services Manager, Marco Fazio, for their support for this story.

In parallel with the decision to switch the sports car to FIAT badging, initial studies had already begun at Alfa Romeo Centro Stile in Torino on the successor to the Alfa Romeo 159.

Those efforts were boosted significently when Marchionne announced in June 2014, at a huge business meeting in Milan, that FCA Group would invest €5 billion in the Alfa Romeo division, developing unique platforms and powertrains, which would essentially spawn eight all new models.

Alfa Romeo was to become a ‘Premium’ brand, and the plan was to return Alfa Romeo to its glory days powered by sexy, agressive styling, with stunning performance and handling. The green light had already been given to Alfa Romeo’s then Head of Design, Marco Tencone (below) in June 2013, to begin design discussions with the exterior team, led by Alessandro Maccolini.

Tencone himself has excellent design credentials, as the designer responsible for the Maserati line, including the striking Alfieri concept.

Since the Tipo 939 (159) had ended production in 2011, it was imperative not only to move quickly on design proposals, but also ensure visual connection with the brand’s contemporary themes.

Naturally of course, between 2010 and 2014 many designers, both amateur and professional, plus car magazine editors, and design schools, had filled the vacuum by producing a plethora of design ideas for the new sedan.

The internet was deluged by what appeared to be very real-looking computerised images, clay models and design sketches, all purporting to be the ‘new’ Alfa Romeo sedan.

This included what looked like an obvious candidate, which was actually a study by design students studying for a Masters' degree, and in effect was pure fantasy.

Maccolini tells me that the work on the new Giulia (Tipo 952), was the most secret project he had ever worked on, during his 20 years with the marque.

He says that right up until the day Giulia was revealed in Arese ‘nothing at all had leaked to the internet or car magazines’. The new car was a total surprise.

The surprise element was also helped by disguising the road-going prototypes with cobbled-up Maserati bodywork and false logos, which completely confused the scoop photographers hovering outside the Balocco Proving Ground, and patrolling autostradas around Milano and Arese.

Italy's Auto Editzione, did capture a complete portfolio of 952 prototypes, however the apparently ‘clumsy’ disguise revealed nothing of the beautiful shape hidden from view.

Alessandro tells me two distinct themes were selected, and were developed into 1/1 scale clay models, after design moved from tape drawings and mathematics between December 2013 and February 2014.

The final model, which sits on the new ‘Giorgio’ platform, was ‘more or less’ approved by Marchionne in September 2014. The ‘more or less’ description is because the Giulia was designed first as the Quadrifolglio, and because the styling and final design was defined by various technical and aerodynamic solutions that were meticulously matured throughout the entire development process.

Needless to say, ideas and innovations adopted for the Quadrifoglio flowed on to the mainstream models.

The Tipo 952 design team includes Alessandro Maccolini (Head of External Design); Inna Kondakova (Head of Interior); Rossella Guasco (Head of Color & Trim); and Valentina Basso (Color and Trim for Giulia).

We should also not forget the early influence on the project of Marco Tencone, who has now been replaced by American Scott Krugger, who moves to Centro Stile from the Dodge Viper and R/T design centre in Auburn Hills, Michigan.

The technical direction and development of the powertrain, platform engineering and suspension was managed and overseen by Ferrari’s Technical Director (and secondee to the 952 team), Philippe Krief.

Testing at both Balocco and Fiorano ensuring tight security was maintained.

As we now know the Giorgio platform underpins the new Stelvio SUV, and will also be the basis for Alfa Romeo’s next new model, a replacement for the Giulietta.

The whole of Alfa Romeo Centro Stile should be justifiably proud of the new Giulia. Its design and visage has been applauded around the world, including rival designers, manufacturers and the automotive media.