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Alfa Romeo Is Finally ‘Acting Like a Premium Brand’

  • Alfa Romeo’s North American chief expects good news when the next JD Power survey results are released.
  • But the Italian brand has not performed particularly well in previous JD Power studies, such as those tracking initial quality and customer service.
  • Alfa Romeo remains a bit player in the US, lagging rivals BMW and Mercedes-Benz by a massive sales margin. Larry Dominique, Alfa’s top US executive, knows there’s much work to do.

    It’s been eight years since Alfa Romeo returned to the US market with the exotic-leaning and tightly sprung 4C Spider two-seater, later followed by the Giulia sedan and Stelvio crossover. Before those vehicles, there was a trickle of limited-edition Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione Spiders, with the first one coming to the US in 2008. A few of these can be found today in the used market, priced over $300k.

    None of Alfa Romeo’s recent US offerings have been runaway hits for the legacy Italian brand, and that might be because some were too affordable, so they were regarded as mainstream products, said Larry Dominique, the senior vice president and head of Alfa Romeo and Fiat North America.

    “Alfa never should have been at a mainstream price point,” Dominique told Detroit journalists last week. For the record, he’s not signaling an elevated price structure in the near future but was talking about extremely attractive lease deals that were previously available.

    “Alfa is a premium brand. It’s just that it was a premium brand that didn’t necessarily act like a premium brand. Now we’re acting like a premium brand.”

    Alfa Romeo 8C Spider.

    For Dominique, that means stepping up the customer experience for those willing to spend at least $44,000 for an Alfa Romeo in the US. For the past three years, Alfa Romeo has scored poorly in JD Power’s Customer Service Index, which measures satisfaction with maintenance or repair work at franchised dealer or aftermarket service facilities. The 2022 ranking was based on responses from 67,185 owners or lessees.

    In 2020, the first year Alfa was includes in the CSI study, the brand scored 792 on a 1000-point scale, placing it 13th out of 14 premium brands. The scores improved in 2021 and 2022 (797 and 801, respectively), but so did the rest of the field. Alfa landed in last place both years.

    Dominique is counting on improvement this year. “CSI (ranking for 2023) comes out in a few weeks. Hold your hat. Let’s see how Alfa does in CSI,” Dominique said. “In my opinion, we’re going to be—if not the most improved—one of the most improved brands in the industry.”

    In 2022, Alfa Romeo sold a paltry 12,845 vehicles in the US.

    He said the Alfa Romeo team has “completely changed our mindset in the way we treat and think about our dealers. I have discussions with dealers all the time,” he said, emphasizing that acting like a premium brand means focusing on the quality of vehicles “coming out of our plants,” especially the new Tonale crossover arriving in the US in May, followed later on by battery-electrics.

    While the JD Power CSI rankings reveal a lot of room for improvement, Alfa Romeo has already made gains on the retail and purchasing front—the Sales Satisfaction Index as tracked by JD Power. In 2017, Alfa’s first year in the SSI study, the brand placed 13th out of 14 premium brands with a score of 755 on a 1000-point scale.

    There was slight improvement in 2018 (score of 759) but Alfa remained one rung from the bottom. There was a step up to the middle of the pack in 2019 (score of 798), but the brand dropped in 2020 (score of 797) to 13th place. In 2021, Alfa Romeo came in ninth place (score of 808) among luxury brands for SSI in the US, and last year, the Italian automaker leapfrogged the entire luxury field for the No. 1 spot, with a score of 833.

    Larry Dominique is senior vice president of Alfa Romeo and Fiat in North America.

    “So it’s about treating customers the right away and giving them the right experience,” Dominique said. “The cars are amazing—I couldn’t ask for better cars.”

    There are two other JD Power studies that Dominique didn’t mention in his meeting with journalists: the Initial Quality Study (tracking the number of problems experienced per 100 vehicles during the first 90 days of ownership) and the US Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study (measuring owners’ emotional attachment and level of excitement with their new vehicle across 37 attributes).

    In 2019, Alfa’s first year in IQS, the brand landed 29th out of 32 luxury and mainstream brands, with 118 problems per 100 vehicles. The brand moved up one spot in 2021, but with 204 problems per 100 vehicles. Last year, Alfa Romeo landed nine rungs from the bottom of the field, with 204 problems per 100 vehicles.

    In the APEAL study, Alfa Romeo has shown steady improvement, ranking 11th out of 14 premium brands in 2019 with a score of 846, out of a 1000-point scale. Alfa wasn’t included in the 2020 study, but the 2021 APEAL survey placed Alfa 10th out of 15 premium brands, with a score of 854.

    Last year, Alfa found itself in the middle of the premium segment, with an APEAL score of 868, placing it eighth out of 16 brands.

    Alfa Romeo has been around for 113 years, built around the notion of affordable performance. Still, it remains a bit player in the US market based on sales.

    In 2022, Alfa Romeo sold a paltry 12,845 vehicles in the US, representing a sizable 30% drop from 2021’s tally, according to Wards Intelligence data. For context, the entrenched luxury brands sold a lot more vehicles in 2022: BMW (332,000), Mercedes-Benz (344,000 with Sprinter), Lexus (259,000), and Tesla (456,000).

    Is Alfa Romeo on your shopping list, if you’re in the luxury vehicle segment? Please comment below.

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