Alfa Romeo boss targeting Lexus reliability, cheaper future models

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J.D. Power's U.S. Initial Quality Study measures an aggregate number of problems suffered by light-duty vehicles during the first 90 days of ownership. In the 2021 survey, the industry average was 162 per 100 vehicles over that first 90 days. Ram topped the charts with the best result, posting 128 problems per 100 vehicles in 90 days. Lexus ranked third, at 144. Out of the top 33 brands measured verifiably according to the methodology — Tesla came with an asterisk — Alfa Romeo finished 29th.

In Consumer Reports' 2020 Brand Report Card, Lexus placed fifth out of 32 brands, Alfa Romeo 28th. The Italian carmaker's CEO, Jean-Philippe Imperato, wants to get his brand closer to that Japanese brand. During the first European test drive of the new Tonale crossover, he told Automotive News, "My quality benchmark is Lexus."

There's a long way to go, but Imperato believes he knows the route. Doing the same quick work in Italy that Carlos Tavares did with Opel, Imperato — who led Peugeot to being the second-best-selling marque in Europe — has turned Alfa Romeo to profit before the release of the Tonale. He's only been on the job 16 months.

There are customer-facing approaches to improving confidence in the brand. The Tonale sits on the oldest platform in the Stellantis parts bin, the CUSW architecture that rolled out with the Giulietta in 2010, so it stands a better chance of having all of its bugs flushed out by now. The blockchain-enabled telematics recorder keeps what is intended to be a tamper-proof record of the vehicle's use and maintenance, preventing skullduggery about accidents and mileage and sketchy service. Alfa has enough faith in it to offer what's said to be a five-year, 75,000-mile unconditional warranty on the Tonale in Europe. We won't know how the nitty gritty bits hold up until Tonales hit the road, but the goals are admirable.     

The reliability push is just one more step in Imperato's re-establishing the market segments, perception, and touchpoints of the Alfa Romeo brand. He told Wheels at the same event, "before we reach for the stars, we must get the basics in order," beginning with "the quality issues," then improving resale values, and then launching more affordable models. The Giulia sedan and Stelvio crossover have been dominated by the Germans they're meant to challenge, and "they are too pricey for Alfisti who would like to trade up from a Giulietta, let alone the MiTo" European subcompact. Some of the models in the already-approved product plan will correct that. "Not everybody is rich," he said. "If you have a reasonable wage, you can buy a piece of beauty. We aren’t elitist; we’re for all," because "Everybody deserves the beauty of an Alfa Romeo."

If Imperato can maintain the stability he stresses, the coming vehicles after the Tonale are an even smaller crossover in 2024 that won't be called by its rumored name of Brennero, which is an Italian mountain pass. "Our third SUV, which is currently ghosting through the media, will certainly not be named as rumored after an Italian lake, mountain, city or region," he said. This model will inaugurate the brand's first battery-electric vehicle along with ICE versions, followed a year later by a pure electric model, which could be the electric hatchback. Assuming those vehicles pay their rent, we could see one or more of the "emphatically sporty and dynamic models" that can do the sprint to 62 miles per hour in under three seconds.

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