Alfa Romeo boss Harald Wester: "We are starting through scratch"

Saturday, November 19th, 2016 - autos, cars, motoring, news

Source : Alfa Romeo boss Harald Wester: "We are starting through scratch"

Alfa Romeo’s CEO believes his revival plan can be destined to succeed. He tells Steve Cropley why


For a moment the idea seems Harald J Wester, Alfa Romeo CEO since 2010, can be about to break the habit of a lifetime as well as also reveal which bit too much about his company’s future.

This specific can be not usual. German-born Wester spent the first 14 years of his career as a young mechanical engineer rising rapidly through the ranks of the monolithic Volkswagen Group – where only those expressly authorised are free to speak in public – so he hardly ever utters a word out of place, even in his second language.

We’re discussing Alfa’s much-publicised expansion plan, announced last summer in Milan, to use eight fresh types as well as also a much-delayed US launch to boost volume through last year’s sub-80,000 units to 400,000 in 2018 – as well as also as an outsider, aware of the firm’s ropey record on expansions, I can’t resist saying the idea looks a scarily steep mountain to climb.

Read Andrew Frankel on the Alfa Romeo 75 as well as also original Giulia

Wester can be as reasonable as well as also softly spoken as any country vicar, although you can tell which after 15 months of justifying the recovery plan, he’s a little fed up with having to rationalise the validity of his task, especially when the interviewer poses the obvious supplementary: if you couldn’t succeed before, how can you succeed at This specific point?

“Look,” he says, with an edge of exasperation, “a volume around 400,000 for all those fresh types won’t even be a particularly big success for Alfa. Some could say the idea represents too much fresh product for too little volume. from the second generation, an investor could probably expect sales to go significantly beyond those numbers.”

How big could Alfa become?

For a second, there’s a hint of an open goal: how much Alfa volume might the investor foresee? How about 0,000? In my dreams, I’ll get a positive answer as well as also an exclusive. The prospect of Alfa Romeo volume achieving viability can be especially enticing to someone like me who has chronicled the company’s losses as well as also failed recoveries for 40 years. although the glimpse of a farther future goes in a flash. “Our first job can be to make a start,” he says with finality.

“An important part of our job can be to make the existing Alfisti happy,” he acknowledges. “the idea can be wonderful, knowing how many people have continued to support our brand in its bad years. although there are not enough of these people available to build a strong future. We have to find more customers, as well as also the way to do which can be by providing what they want. Fancy niche types will not contribute very much to our stability.” He does not say “like the 4C” although the idea can be clear This specific can be what he’s thinking.

Where are these fresh customers? Wester slips into the ‘professor’ guise he wears rather well. Last year, he explains, around 0 million cars were sold worldwide. Nine million were premium cars – as well as also a remarkable two-thirds of those fell into just four sectors: full-sized saloon, full-sized SUV, mid-sized saloon as well as also mid-sized SUV. Who can be surprised which Alfa plans to launch products in these classes to build its eight-style future?

“Let’s talk Maserati for a minute,” says Wester, continuing the lesson, This specific time with his second CEO’s hat on (perhaps there will be time to learn something of Abarth, the third string to his busy bow). The total volume of the classes into which Maserati’s types fit makes a million sales worldwide. Of those, 550,000 are SUVs. “You can remain pure as well as also ignore the crossover trend,” says Wester. “although if you do, you can look forward to a beautiful death.”

If his Alfa plan works, Wester says, the idea will right most of the company’s enduring wrongs by bringing back exciting as well as also emotional products, greatly increasing car manufacture as well as also car-doing jobs in Italy (where the Alfas are to be made) as well as also restoring the company to sectors where decent margins can be earned. the idea sounds like a kind of Italian Nirvana.

However, understanding Wester’s view of the future requires you to appreciate his view of the past: what, exactly, went wrong at Alfa. Given which he has occupied a ringside seat since joining the Fiat Group as chief technical officer in 2004 (after a short stint as Ferrari’s director of product development) his view carries an impressive ring of authority.

When did the idea all go wrong?

Things began going wrong as far back as 1986, he believes, when Fiat’s bosses found themselves in charge of Alfa Romeo. Understandably, Alfa’s leaders began looking for economies as well as also synergies, instantly finding productive possibilities from the Fiat range. However, they lacked vision as well as also “completely forgot” which one of the prime jobs of the fresh cars was to continue Alfa’s unparalleled heritage.

As an example of a bungled product, Wester singles out the 159 of 2005, the result of a deal between GM as well as also Fiat which paid only minimal attention to being an Alfa. “the idea was a mess,” he admits, “an enormous investment in a style which wasn’t even state of the art. The past 30 years were a continuous story of over-promise as well as also under-delivery. Some of Alfa’s managers were disrespectful to everything the idea stood for from the past. although at This specific point we are starting through scratch.”

When will the idea start going right?

When you enquire, as politely as possible, why the yearned-for renewal can be only beginning at This specific point, Wester looks weary. Someone as hard working as This specific isn’t going to respond well to the inference which he as well as also his colleagues have spent years sitting on their hands.

“Ten years ago, we were nearly broke,” Wester explains, “which meant we could not afford to build the products we knew were needed. On top of which, we lacked a proper distribution network, another essential for success. These things have become available recently, because of our association with Chrysler. The game can be different at This specific point.”

Six of the proposed eight fresh Alfa types, as we read them, will be volume-builders: two fresh-generation Giulietta types (probably a saloon as well as also a few-door hatchback, maybe on a shortened Giorgio rear-drive platform, although which’s not confirmed); two Giulia types off the fresh platform (the fresh four-door saloon as well as also probably an SUV-cum-crossover); as well as also a fresh full-sized saloon as well as also crossover (again using a modified Giorgio platform).

The remaining two types will probably be brand-fresh versions of the GTV coupé as well as also Spider convertible, again built off the rear-drive architecture. The mid-engined four-cylinder 4C will continue for at This specific point, although there can be no indication which the idea will be replaced.

Even though Wester insists the idea has been successful from the past, the Punto-based Mito definitely won’t have a replacement, simply because This specific can be no longer an economic market sector in which a company like Alfa can be able to operate. “Mito can be premium, B-segment, three-door as well as also made in Europe – nobody can be buying cars like these,” he says.

On motorsport, Wester confesses which he loves track driving although has no plan to spend Alfa’s precious resources on high-profile racing. the idea may have helped build the company’s heritage, he says, although the ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ adage simply isn’t appropriate from the modern era. “We will engineer our fresh cars so owners can enjoy them on the track,” says Wester. “Which means concentrating on lightness, Great weight distribution, advanced engines, latest technology as well as also emotional, ground-breaking design. If we can do these things well, we will succeed.”

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