For 2005, Alfa Romeo has a new boss, ex-Rolls-Royce CEO and former BMW executive Karl-Heinz Kalbfell, and a new partner company, Maserati. Parent company Fiat is now going it alone, General Motors having extricated itself from a buy-out promise, and the subsequent ongoing re-shuffle means job cuts on both the factory floor and in the boardroom.
The merger with Maserati is good news for Alfa, though: the two companies will work together on the development of new technology, as well as sharing distribution, sales and marketing networks worldwide. It signals a more global outlook for Alfa, perhaps including a re-launch in the USA, where it has not sold since 1991, and Fiat's longer-term ambitions to revitalise the brand.
Alfa representatives are justifiably optimistic about the appointment of Kalbfell, seen as a shrewd operator and a real "car guy", and said to have a long-time enthusiasm for the Alfa Romeo brand. They're also optimistic about even the near future of 2005: with the launch of two important new models later in the year, the 159 (replacement for the 156) and Brera coupe (GTV), there is the opportunity to win back the interest of buyers beyond the hardcore Alfa faithful.
Last year in the UK, Alfa sold only just over 8000 cars, hanging onto a market share of 0.31 percent and was outsold by niche players such as Porsche, Smart and Subaru. To put this result in further context, several other companies also seen as struggling sold cars in comprehensively greater numbers: Daewoo (17,500), MG (32,000), Mitsubishi (22,500), Rover (45,000) and even Saab (20,300).
Sure, Alfa has never pretended to be a mainstream volume brand - that's Fiat's job - but it needs to get back on track. The company intends to sell around 9,500 cars this year in the UK, and nearly half of these are expected to be 147s: needless to say, this small family-sized range is a crucial model for the brand.