Fiat looks to add car to another brand in family

Alfa unlikely to get Mazda-made roadster, sources say

Fiat looks to add car to another brand in family

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Fiat or its Abarth performance subbrand are likely to get a roadster from Mazda instead of Alfa Romeo, sources say.

Fiat and Mazda product planners plan to meet soon to discuss the potential badge change for the MX-5-based two-seat car, the sources added.

Alfa, which will debut a concept version of its planned 4C convertible at the Geneva auto show on Tuesday, was supposed to get the Japan-build roadster at the start of next year.

Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, however, put that plan in doubt when he told the Financial Times last September that there won't be any Alfas built outside of Italy as long as he is boss. Marchionne plans to stay at Fiat-Chrysler until at least 2017.

Marchionne reconfirmed at the Detroit auto show in January that no Alfas will be built outside Italy, but declined to discuss the future of the roadster that Mazda is supposed to make for Alfa.

He said more details about future Fiat Group products would be revealed in early May.

The sources say that Fiat's product planners in Turin are looking for ways to fulfill the terms of their supply contract with Mazda because walking away from the deal would be extremely expensive, something Fiat wants to avoid as it aims to return to profit in Europe by 2016 after posting heavy losses in the region last year.

The sources didn't say which other brand is the most likely to add the roadster. Fiat's other near-premium brand, Lancia, is not in contention for the car because Marchionne has decided to reduce the 108-year-old marque to a one-model brand, the Ypsilon, that only is sold in Italy. Lancia will be discontinued outside its home market starting this year.

The planned 1.4-liter turbo-gasoline roadster probably would be too small and underpowered for supercar brands Ferrari and Maserati. That leaves the Fiat brand and Abarth.

"Abarth really makes sense for a lightweight, small displacement, high-output two-seat roadster, which perfectly fits the brand's DNA," one of the sources said.

During previous discussions about the Alfa-Mazda roadster, Fiat said that the car would be an heir to the legendary Duetto Spider driven by Dustin Hoffman in "The Graduate." Mazda will build the roadster at its factory in Hiroshima.

You can reach Luca Ciferri at lciferri@crain.com.

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