If you clicked on this article hoping to witness one of the least effective PowerPoint presentations in the history of the automotive industry -- at least in my opinion -- you're in luck! A key cog in Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' (NYSE:FCAU) turnaround will be the revival of its Alfa Romeo brand. Unfortunately, as you can see in this 55 slide presentation, the revival plan is a bit iffy.
If you don't feel like clicking through the presentation, allow me to summarize FCA's position.
"Hello, so, we used to be pretty good at this racing thing. We achieved glory on the race track, but it never translated to great financial success. We plan to drive global Alfa Romeo sales from 74,000 in 2013 to about 400,000 in 2018. We're not sure how we're going to do it, or what cars will drive the sales, but don't worry because we achieved a similar sales surge with the Jeep brand."
That pretty much sums it up. On the bright side, FCA unveiled its 2016 Alfa Romeo Giulia last week, and now investors have at least a little more guidance for the hoped-for turnaround of FCA's luxury sports brand. Here are the details, and why it matters.
No easy task
Alfa Romeo's Giulia sedan will play a key role in the brand's turnaround plan. FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne is hoping that the Alfa Romeo brand revival will enable its vehicles to take on luxury rivals such as BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz -- but that won't be easy.
"It's not impossible but it's a tall order and there is no margin for error," said Giacomo Mori, a managing director at advisory firm AlixPartners in Italy, according to Automotive News. "Alfa has to offer all the technology and perks that are a given in those German cars and something else."
Alfa Romeo's Giulia will use a rear-wheel/all-wheel drive platform and will boast high-performance engines under the hood. A 510 horsepower 3.0 liter V-6 with twin turbochargers reengineered from a Ferrari engine will be offered, as well as a 2.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder with output options of 180 horsepower, 250 hp and 330 hp. The 510 horsepower engine will enable the Giulia to zoom from zero to 60 mph in just under four seconds.
FCA will begin producing the Giulia in the last quarter of 2015 with a European launch in the first quarter of 2016 and a U.S. debut soon after. Alfa Romeo needs the Giulia to sell well and begin driving awareness of the brand -- it was absent in the U.S. for two decades before the 4C sports car hit the streets last year.
Why it matters
All in all, the Giulia is the first step in Marchionne's $6 billion strategy to put its Alfa Romeo brand on par with its German luxury rivals. Marchionne noted that an additional seven new Alfa Romeo models will be launched by 2018. One of those models will be a mid-size crossover in early 2017, which will aim to rival the Audi Q5 and BMW X3. A large sedan is also due later in 2017, which will compete with Audi's A6 and the BMW 5 series. FCA expects that 150,000 units of Alfa Romeo's projected 400,000 annual global sales will come from North America, but investors have been advised that sales will fall short of that goal if the Giulia flops in America.
Ultimately, while global luxury sales represent only 10% of total sales, it's estimated those sales generate one-third of the industry's profits. To put it bluntly, having a successful mainstream luxury brand is a necessity for global automakers. Investors hoping that FCA will indeed pull off a successful turnaround would be wise to watch how the Giulia and subsequent Alfa Romeo launches sell in the U.S. market. If Alfa Romeo's Giulia fails to impress critics and consumers, or stir up consumer interest, it will be a bumpy road for the next step in Alfa Romeo's brand revival and FCA's turnaround story.