We spoke with the Director of Alfa Romeo North America, Pieter Hogeveen, on the delayed relaunch of the brand in Canada, Super Bowl commercials and what it takes to maintain an old Alfa Romeo.
On owning an old Alfa Romeo
Growing up, I used to drive Alfas. I'm from the Netherlands. My dad was in the auto industry. I sold Lancias in college and I drove a 1985 Alfa Romeo Alfasud. I loved it. It was so unique. I had a twin-spark, which was really cool. Many times, I had to open the hood and show people the engine. The car was quick. I think what's so cool about the old Alfas is the noise. The sound was always so unique. My Alfasud was black with a green stripe, a Quadrifoglio Verde. It was a fixer-upper. I bought it with 110,000 kilometres on it. It was where I learned to turn wrenches. Currently, I own a red Alfetta, a '76 GT. Also a fixer-upper.
I was very pro-active working on my Alfasud. Obviously, back then you didn't have blogs, but you had big groups of Alfa people, and we were always kind of working on our cars together. That's the Alfa passion.
To come back to North America is obviously a huge deal. The whole brand is relaunching. Being high-quality and reliable is the main thing. That is number one; that's key.
On the decision to "soft launch" Alfa Romeo back into North America with the 4C
What's important to remember is that vehicle [4C] is for a unique buyer. If you make a huge launch campaign around a vehicle like that, then people are like 'hmmm.' The market isn't there. It's a unique, specialty vehicle. So what we did is come in with a more grassroots approach, start building our dealer network in the background, getting people to start talking about Alfa Romeo again.
On making the Super Bowl ads
The Super Bowl is when our real campaign turned on. We had three Super Bowl spots. If you really watched, there was kind of a cadence. The first one was really driving curiosity for the brand, touching on all our rich history: We've been around for 105 years, we've won many Grand Prix. The second commercial, Dear Predictable, it speaks to the segment. People are kind of tired of buying the same cars over and over again. They rotate between the three [German] brands. We're different. And the third commercial, Mozzafiato ["to take one's breath" in Italian] was about putting some Italian flair in there.
On whether the Giulia launch behind schedule
Yes. I think we had some holdups that were outside of our control. Our plan was to have cars in-market by late last year. We're now talking February.
One of the reasons the vehicle was delayed is that, when you bring in a new vehicle, there are a lot of EPA tests and CARB emissions tests to do. We had to wait for certifications on the vehicles. You can't ship a car without a certification.
There were a lot of new introductions in the segment as well so we made sure we adjusted our product plan. In Canada, and the U.S., [compact luxury] is a leasing segment, so you've got to make sure you've got your content [standard equipment and options] right to get the right residuals to be able to compete in the big leasing segment.
On when will the Giulia arrive in Canadian dealerships
We're shipping cars to dealerships right now. Cars are landing today [Feb. 16] or yesterday, including Quadrifoglio and the 2.0-litre version. They're on trucks being delivered. In the U.S., we have about 1,000 cars at dealerships now.
On justifying the Giulia Quadrifoglio's high $87,995 price
You have a twin-turbo, 505-horsepower engine, with a 0-100 km/h time of 3.9 seconds. When we positioned this vehicle, we knew there was good demand out there. Demand will always be higher than the supply for this Quadrifoglio.
What is expensive – there are a lot of exotic parts – was the development of the engine. It's a 2.9-litre 90-degree [V-6] that allowed us to put the turbos inside [the V]. We utilized Ferrari engineers and we used their technology. But this engine was developed with Alfa Romeo and it will stay with Alfa Romeo; you're not going to see it anywhere else.
On where Alfa Romeos will be sold in Canada?
There are seven dealerships currently in Canada. The plan is to have around 10 dealerships by the end of the year. To grow a dealer network is difficult without product. Now we have product in the market. Alfa will always be separate from other FCA [Fiat Chrysler] brands with the exception of Maserati.
Fiat? They can be in the same room as long as there's a good separation between the brands. They're both Italian, and that's what they've got going for them.
On what's next for Alfa Romeo in North America
The Stelvio [SUV], which we're going to launch late summer.
I'm not going to go into future product, but I think it's important that we have those vehicles that initiated all the passion for the Alfa brand. You've just got to keep an eye on that.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
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