Italian automaker Alfa Romeo is on a roll. Founded more than a century ago in Milan, Alfa Romeo established itself as a racing champion and leveraged the momentum to push its production cars. Post-WWII, the brand launched the stunning Giulietta and then the Giulia, setting up what Alfa Romeo exec Larry Dominique calls “sticky” and loyal fans. Alfa Romeo now has 58 owner clubs in the U.S.; that’s notable for a brand that sells 20,000 cars a year.
Still, this specialty automaker has been falling under the radar in past years.
“Alfa Romeo has a heritage legacy that we’re expensive, we’re expensive to fix, and we have a lot of defects, and that’s not true,” said Dominique, senior vice president of the brand for North America. “The service quality coming out of Cassino [Alfa Romeo’s assembly plant in Italy] now is the same as the German Three, but the perception is not there so we need to get the message out.”
Under CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato, the automaker is laser-focused on righting the ship. Imparato took on the mantle of Alfa Romeo CEO in 2021, and he has shoehorned monthly visits to the production line into his packed schedule.
“Jean-Philippe spends an average of two to three days of his month in the plants,” Dominique told Edmunds. “He brings the head of global quality and takes the plant managers to task to meet the targets. There have been dramatic improvements and lower defect rates in the last year and a half.”
As it relates to quality, the European market has different challenges than North America does. For instance, cars delivered to North America are transported on boats, which are splashed with saltwater, which in turn causes rust. Every day, Dominique says he reviews the company’s vehicle off road report. Not to be confused with off-roading vehicles, the off road report is a list of vehicles that need to be fixed (and are consequently not on the road).
“The number one thing we are putting at the center is quality,” the head of Alfa Romeo’s F1 group, Cristiano Fiorio, told Edmunds. “We have been quite silent in the past. But with our metamorphosis, our CEO wants only to be number one. Now we are proving our new cars are high-quality, and to be honest, this was not the case a few years ago. We wanted to be sure the quality is at the right pace because it was a problem in the past and we had to fix it.”
F1 inspires Alfa Romeo improvement
It's rare – and actually, refreshing – for an automaker to own up to past mistakes and put its improvement plan on display. Alfa Romeo is going forward boldly, including a renewed convergence between its high-tech F1 team and consumer vehicles. Working together closely, the team built the new Tonale plug-in hybrid crossover from scratch, ready for launch in the US next year.
It may seem that an F1 race car and a family crossover have nothing in common, but Alfa is finding ways to weave the two together based on experiments in the field.
“Formula One is a laboratory for technology for the brand,” said Fiorio.
So while its vehicles still display the Italian flag colors and signature “telephone” wheels, Alfa Romeo is paddling furiously under the surface. No longer content to ride on its more than a century of history, the brand isn’t leaving itself much runway to veer off. Executives have promised to release five new vehicles in the next six years and ambitiously plan to be the first brand under the Stellantis umbrella to achieve full electrification.
Currently, Alfa Romeo buyer demographics show that men make up 70% of the pie. Without alienating its base, Dominique says its strategy is to get more people behind the wheel to reach more women and younger customers.
“Looking at our market today, we’re very coastal,” he said. “Our biggest markets are New York, New Jersey and Southern California. It’s in markets like Austin, Atlanta, Dallas where we’re under-indexed and planning more experiential drives.”
That’s good news for tire kickers who may be surprised to find Alfa Romeo on their list after getting behind the wheel. At least, that’s what Dominique is hoping.
In Paris recently, Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares said he’s pleased with the progress of Alfa Romeo. The company is profitable for the first time in “I don’t know how long,” Dominique said, allowing the brand to invest in its future.