As Alfa Romeo was introducing its new 4C to ‘select’ media, time was taken by their executive team to announce the appointment of 86 Alfa Romeo dealers in the U.S. (Lower 33) and Canada. This, in and of itself, should make the hearts of Alfa loyalists – all 20 of them – beat a tad faster. In making the announcement, Chrysler’s press release indicated that this was but an initial rollout; eventually the number of Alfa dealers will exceed 300 franchises. And that, if fading memory serves, is roughly the number of BMW dealers in these United States.
This comes some four years after Chrysler announced ambitious plans for Fiat’s return to the U.S. after a multi-year absence. Results of that initiative were mixed, having established an overly aggressive schedule for the development of an all-new dealership network and, ultimately, a seemingly overly aggressive sales goal. With 216 Fiat Studios now operating in the U.S., it’s not too much of a stretch to assume that of those 216 just over one third (or 82) are doing what Chrysler had hoped they would do in what is admittedly a still-challenging market.
In defense of the Fiat dealer body, you can only ride one horse (see California Chrome) for so long, and Chrysler’s reliance on the Fiat 500 would have tested the patience of Carlo Abarth hisownself. And when looking for a relief pitcher you could have done far better – within Fiat’s own portfolio – than the disappointing 500L. Fiat’s take on the Pontiac Aztek would seem to be much too little, and a tad too late.
So, for the immediate future it’s left to Alfa Romeo and the mid-engined – but low volume – 4C to bring back the crowds to the Fiat Studio. According to Peter Grady, Vice President of Network Development, Chrysler Group LLC, “each Alfa Romeo dealer will have a unique staff dedicated to the brand’s premium market clientele. We require each Alfa Romeo dealer to have their sales and technical staff go through an intensive curriculum to ensure the highest levels of customer care and proficiency of the Alfa Romeo 4C.”
What Chrysler doesn’t mention in the initial release is this is for, we’ll guess, one car per dealer per month – at least in the initial launch. And I’m not sure how a dealer (or, for that matter, Chrysler itself) ensures the ‘highest level of customer care and proficiency’ on the profit generated by one $60K vehicle every 30 days; Ford can’t ensure it on one F-Series sold every 30 seconds!
Obviously, for these 86 there will be, eventually, more Alfa Romeo vehicles in the pipeline. And for those dealers without Alfa – as well as those dealers blessed by its arrival in the third quarter – Chrysler would do well to refocus its energies on the Fiat Studio. At the dawn of its launch the collection of Fiat Studios might have been MTV; four years later a great many are looking and feeling – at least on paper – more like RKO (look it up). Ciao, as they say, for now…