MADRID - With the launch of the 166, Alfa Romeo has completed a L7 trillion ($3.5 billion) revision of its range.
Alfa Romeo will enter 60 markets with the 166 and aims to sell more units overseas than in Italy. 'The 156 is sold in 57 markets and achieved higher volumes abroad,' said Roberto Testore, Fiat Auto managing director. 'It is already the most international Alfa Romeo ever - but the 166 will do better.'
The 166, a four-door sports sedan, replaces the 164 which was launched 11 years ago.
Testore said Fiat has no plans to assemble Alfa Romeo models outside Italy. 'We will continue to build Alfas solely in Italy and export them all over the world,' he said. 'In countries where we produce locally, imported Alfa Romeos will benefit from the export credits Fiat enjoys as a local manufacturer.'
The 166 required a total investment of L750 billion ($442.2 million), two-thirds of which was spent on tooling and the remainder on r&d. Alfa Romeo plans to sell over 50,000 units in the first full year of production. 'We will start to make money with 40,000 units,' said Testore.
The 166 is being built at the Rivalta plant near Turin. Originally conceived as an Alfa Romeo version of the Lancia Kappa, it underwent modifications as development progressed. New front high wishbone and multi-link rear suspensions were added, delaying launch by almost two years. The 166 now retains just 13 percent of the Kappa's original platform, mainly the central part of the floorpan.
The 166 will go on sale in Italy starting on 2 October. Prices will range from L60 million to L80 million (between $35,300 and $47,000). It will be available throughout continental Europe by the end of October. Right-hand-drive versions and exports to Asia and Africa will begin around March next year. South America will follow in August 1999.
Alfa Romeo began the revision of its range with the 145, launched in July 1994, followed by the 146 in November of the same year. The Spider and GTV coupe appeared in February 1995. Then, in November 1997, the 156 made its debut.
'With these new products we have overcome skepticism about Fiat's ability to truly relaunch the Alfa Romeo brand,' Testore said. 'We received 150,000 orders for the 156 in its first 10 months of sales. Thanks to its success, Alfa Romeo was one of the fastest growing brands in Europe from January to August 1998.'
According to preliminary figures from ACEA, Alfa Romeo sales were 44.7 percent up in the period. This was marginally behind Skoda, the fastest-growing marque, which recorded a figure of 45.3 percent. For western Europe, Testore predicted a market of around 14 million units this year, an increase of around 5-6 percent on 1997.
In spite of the financial turmoil in the Far East, Brazil and Russia, Fiat Auto is maintaining its strategy of globalization. 'We are looking for long-term opportunities in emerging markets,' said Testore.
'Our basic outlook won't change, but we are aware of the risks as well as the opportunities. Our job is a tough one, but when it is done in the right way it gives us great satisfaction.'