Why RWD Only Is Wrong For Alfa Romeo

Nothing in the C-segment looks or drives like the Giulietta
Following Fiat's purchase of Chrysler new plans have been announced for Alfa Romeo - eight new models in the next five years, a move upmarket and a switch to rear wheel drive only. For those who look at Alfa Romeo as a competitor to BMW that sounds like a good move, but if Alfa Romeo is to hit it's target of selling 300,000 new cars a year it's a risky decision to take.

For most people espousing the benefits of a rear-wheel drive platform Alfa Romeo means cars like the 4C, SZ and a succession of beautiful coupes and spiders of the sixties and seventies. And there's no denying that the essence of the Alfa DNA is most visible in these cars.

However in terms of sales and success the most popular Alfa Romeos have been the more middle of the road family saloons. The best selling Alfa Romeo ever? That would be the 33. Followed by the Alfasud. Neither of these cars were humdrum or in any way boring. But they were aimed at the family car buying who was prepared to pay a small premium for a car which carried 'sportiness' in its genes, rather than having had it bolted on at the factory along with an XR or GT badge.

The best demonstration of this was an old seventies advert for the Alfetta, which showed a small boy walking around the family saloon with a pull-along toy pre-war Alfetta Grand Prix car. The tagline? "Turns Dads into heroes".

At it's heart an Alfa Romeo is not a BMW or an Audi and nor should it ever strive to be. Even the most basic Giulia, Alfasud, 33, 156 or Giulietta provokes an emotive response which comes from the soul. From design. From a sense of history. That some of these cars share common parts with Fiats makes no difference at all. In fact the economies of scale created by sharing these key components means that Alfa Romeos can be sold into market segments where they would otherwise not be viable. And for a company that needs volume that's very important.

FCA has to be careful that in its desire to pander to the petrolheads it doesn't abandon Alfa Romeo's core market of keen drivers with families who want something premium, without breaking the bank (or having to buy something horribly Teutonic!)

There's no argument that Alfa Romeo sportscars and the forthcoming large saloons should be rear wheel drive and premium. Abandoning the MiTo and Giulietta, however, isn't as clear cut an argument as it first appears.


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