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Alfa Romeo on SUV focus: Brand needs to 'move with the market'

Alfa Romeo historian says the Italian brand can embrace SUVs without losing its DNA.

It’s no secret Alfa Romeo has been in a tough spot over the past few years. Despite new and vastly improved product in the form of the Giulia and Stelvio, the brand is far from being where it wants to be sales-wise globally.

According to parent company Fiat Chrysler’s own Q3 2019 financial results, these woes have seen the Italian brand recently pare back an ambitious new car product catalogue from including two upcoming sports cars to none. Instead, the brand will focus on launching just two new electrified SUVs by 2022.

We know now that one of those models will be the Tonale small SUV, but we also know the cancellation of what was meant to be a new 8C and GTV will be a historic departure for the brand away from its sporting heritage.

The brand's late 2019 results notably omitted any sports cars from its planned portfolio. The brand's late 2019 results notably omitted any sports cars from its planned portfolio.

What better time to speak with Alfa Romeo’s head museum curator and learned car historian, Lorenzo Ardizio, and ask about how this shift can suit the brand and its followers.

“In 1949 people said it was crazy to design an Alfa with just four cylinders,” Mr Ardizio explained. “[But in the years after] we had all sorts of Alfa Romeo cars… It’s important to hold on to the brand’s DNA, but also, we have to move with the market.

“Alfa Romeo has been an innovator of body-types in the past, and it needs to continue to do that into the future, too.”

Mr Ardizio was keen to point out through our interview that Alfa had undergone mass transformations in the past, even “losing its identity” in the 1980s, and that the brand’s core tenets which drew customers weren’t necessarily about any one vehicle or body-style, but that “Alfa DNA which means design and performance”.

"Alfa Romeo DNA means design and performance." "Alfa Romeo DNA means design and performance."

“Alfa is accessible because it is premium but not exclusive. An Alfa is easy to recognise, when you look at it, when you drive it. You know it is an Alfa.”

The Alfa Romeo Tonale is set to be introduced internationally in late 2020, and will herald the discontinuation of the brand’s long-running Giulietta hatchback.

Much like its Giulia and Stelvio siblings, the Tonale is a targeted opponent of other premium small SUVs like the Audi Q3, BMW X1, Volvo XC40 and Mercedes-Benz GLA.

We don’t know much about its specification yet, but a plug-in hybrid variant is at least expected.

We expect at least a PHEV variant of the Tonale as Alfa focuses on new drivetrain tech. We expect at least a PHEV variant of the Tonale as Alfa focuses on new drivetrain tech.

Alfa is struggling in Australia during a particularly trying year, moving just 187 units so far, down 26.4 per cent. Despite a refreshed catalog it could spell trouble for the brand, with notable rivals like Infiniti pulling out of our notoriously difficult new car landscape.