Thank you for sitting down with us today. Alfa is newly returned to the US market. Sales seem to be steadily increasing as new models hit dealerships. Are you pleased with Alfa Romeo’s sales progress so far?
Yes. We’re rapidly growing and increasing sales. We sold over 12,000 vehicles last year. We’ve increased the size of our dealer network, increased the number of models we offer, and increased our overall presence in North America. Interest is growing in Alfa Romeo again after a twenty year absence. Giulia was just awarded Motor Trend’s 2018 Car of the Year. The Giulia Quadrifoglia set the sedan record at the Nurburgring last year and we just set a new Nurburgring record with the Stelvio Quadrifoglio, beating the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S by a full 8 seconds. Things are going well.
What are Alfa Romeo’s sales goals in the US for 2018?
Right now, we’re just focusing on building our dealer network and increasing sales. Most of our sales are conquest sales right now. We’re stealing most of our sales from Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi.
How do you educate the US about Alfa Romeo after a twenty year absence?
We’ve done a lot of research and we’ve found that everyone who comes in contact with the brand has an Alfa story. When we share those stories and share our history, people learn things about Alfa Romeo that sticks with them. We focus on our history, educate people about it, and their curiosity grows. They become eager to learn more and eventually they have their own Alfa stories that they share with others.
My experience when reviewing the 4C Spider was that many of the people who asked about the car had never heard of Alfa Romeo before. Alfa has never had a strong presence here in the US so it was encouraging to see people notice the television advertising for the Giulia recently. How do you plan to make Alfa Romeo a household brand?
Alfa Romeo has always stood apart. It’s always been something special and we intend to keep it that way. It’s always had panache that helps it stand out from the crowd. Not quite to the degree of Ferrari, but to its own level. We’ve been around over 100 years. Alfa’s heritage is long and important to us. Take our tri-lobe grille – we’ve had it for over 80 years. It’s very important to stay true to our design language and our heritage. People will learn of it with time and exposure.
I understand Alfa is returning to Formula 1 with Sauber. I can see how this might help sales in Europe and the rest of the world, but N America is largely blind to F1. Is there a plan to put Alfa Romeo racing in front of a largely American audience?
Formula 1 is growing in popularity here. In fact, you’ve got one of the best F1 tracks in the world down in Texas. It will help us focus our efforts. As F1 grows, Alfa’s rep will too. You know, there’s a lot of closet F1 fans here in the US.
Speaking of racing, have you given any thought to a single-marque racing series like Ferrari’s Challenge series for the 4C? Or even the Giulia?
No, not at this time. Formula 1 is our only focus.
4C sales seem to have leveled off around 400-500 units/year here and are remaining fairly steady. What are your plans for it?
Keep it unique. It’s something very special. Beyond that, I’m not at liberty to say.
A few years ago, we heard a rumor that the 4C would be discontinued due to slow sales. Recently we’ve heard rumors that the 4C will be getting some updates next year which leads us to believe that maybe it’s not. This is good news to us. Can you tell us if the 4C will remain in production, and if the rumor about the updates is true, what can we expect?
The car is still available. They are custom built to order. They are very special. I can’t give any denial or confirmation on future product plans.
Will there be a Quadrifoglia version of the 4C?
I don’t think it needs one. It stands on its own as a performance car so there’s really no need to Quadrifoglio-ize it. It’s already the best in its class.
Giulia sales appear to be growing and I expect they’ll continue to grow. Right now you have the Ti, the Lusso, and the Quadrifoglio. WIll there be any other trim levels as well?
We don’t want to overwhelm consumers. Every nameplate means something and we don’t want to cheapen anything about our cars. We want to keep things simple and clear for our clients.
The rest of the world gets manual-transmission Giulia’s. What would it take to get a manual Giulia available in N. America? Is there a particular sales level it would need to meet?
If marketing detects enough interest, it’s possible but the automatic is far superior. We were able to take back the Nurburgring record using the 8-speed automatic instead of the manual. It’s an incredible unit.
In SUV-oriented N. America, do you feel the Stelvio will eventually make up the majority of Alfa Romeo’s sales here?
It’s possible. The premium SUV segment is already outpacing the premium sedan segment this year. Giulia buyers will still buy the Giulia for a reason – it’s a drivers car. However the Stelvio, being as capable as it is, should appeal to a much wider segment of the market.
Will the Stelvio be off-road capable as well as street-capable?
It’s VERY capable but it’s more road-focused. It’ll never compete with Jeep, but did you know it comes with Hill Descent Assist? So it’s definitely got some capability. Though it’s 100% AWD, it’s rear-biased for driving performance but its active transfer case can send the power wherever it’s needed and it’s surprisingly good off-road.
What are Alfa’s sales goals for the Stelvio?
We simply want to grow awareness of it, popularize it. Give it bigger importance.
When will the Stelvio Quadrifoglia be available at dealerships?
Before this summer.
Where in the Netherlands did you grow up?
In Haarlem, in the Netherlands.
How did you first become interested in Alfa Romeo?
My first car was an ’85 Sprint Quadrifoglio with a twin-spark engine and I currently own a ’77 Alfetta GT. I have always loved driving these cars.
Do you find that N. American auto consumers have similar tastes and preferences to European consumers when shopping cars?
There will always be differences, but both like performance and that’s what we provide.
What’s your favorite historical Alfa Romeo classic car – the one you’d most like to have in your garage?
A ’68 Tipo 33 Stradale. It’s my absolute favorite. It’s so gorgeous.
What other type of car would you like to see Alfa build next?
As long as we stay true to our core values and roots, it doesn’t matter what we build. It will have best-in-class performance, it will have excellent styling. It will be fun. Whatever it is, it must be an Alfa first and foremost.
Pieter, thank you for taking time out of your busy day to talk with us.