Alfa Romeo poised to double sales with arrival of Tonale

Jessica Thompson

With the Tonale, Alfa Romeo’s first new model since it launched the Stelvio midsize SUV in 2016, the Stellantis subsidiary is joining the compact SUV segment for the first time. In Europe alone, this segment accounts for 2.5 to 3 million sales a year, Alfa CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato said, which is why he believes a successful launch of the Tonale could double Alfa’s global volume to more than 100,000 by 2023. Imparato shared his sales outlook for the brand with Automotive News Europe Associate Publisher & Editor Luca Ciferri and Correspondent Andrea Malan.

How did Alfa Romeo perform in 2021?

Last year we delivered 55,000 cars worldwide, down from 63,300 in 2020. That figure included 14,400 units of the Giulietta compact hatchback, which we stopped making in late 2020, but still accounted for 4,800 sales last year. Remove the Giulietta from both years and we grew by 1,300 units last year to 50,200 units versus 2020. Europe accounted for 50 percent of our global sales, with half of that volume coming from Italy. A third of our global sales were in North America, with the Asia-Pacific region accounting for the rest. In the D (midsize) segment, if we only count models powered by internal combustion engines — which is what we currently offer on the Giulia and Stelvio — our share was up everywhere, except China.

How much of a hit did Alfa take in Europe because it doesn’t have electrified versions of the Giulia and Stelvio, especially with fleet customers?

On fleets, which account for roughly half of Alfa’s sales in Europe, no having electrified models cost us 30 percent of our potential sales. That translates into about 15 percent of our total sales. We also lost sales with private customers in countries such as France and Belgium, where cars that have high CO2 emissions are heavily taxed. The shift to electrified models has also been rapid. For example, electrified sales in Italy in the segment where we compete rose to 79 percent in late 2021 from 29 percent in early 2020. To compete, you have to react quickly. That is why the new Tonale compact SUV will be offered with hybrid powertrains from the start.

How many Tonale plug-in hybrids do you expect to sell?

It’s really difficult to say at the moment. We will launch the 275-hp plug-in hybrid version in October. That means, the plug-in hybrid will hit the market in 2023, at which time I want it to have a very high share. Much will depend on the CO2 regulations in each European market. In countries with strict CO2 rules the Tonale plug-in hybrid version’s share might reach 80 percent. Another key factory is the CO2 level we have to reach within Stellantis’ EU-wide strategy.

How many Tonales does Alfa plan to sell?

It’s not about volume because volume does not equal profitability. One percent of Europe’s compact SUV market would be 25,000 cars; 3 percent 75,000. We have great flexibility at our plant in Pomigliano, Italy [where the Tonale will be built]. Given that the Tonale will debut in June, we’ll be happy if we sell 30,000 units this year. For the full year, the Tonale’s global sales potential could be in the range of 70,000 to 80,000 units. Europe could account for 45,000 to 60,000 units, with 10,000 to 15,000 possible in the U.S.

Does that mean the Tonale’s break-even point is just 45,000 units?

It’s much lower than that. We don’t have to push the product to keep the Pomigliano plant open because the factory builds the [high-volume] Fiat Panda. If we make 30,000 Tonales, that won’t be a problem. That’s a strategic choice. We’re know where we are starting from. You can’t build a premium brand if you are under pressure to make high volumes.

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