Few brands have written more automotive history and evoke more emotions than Alfa Romeo. For decades, the Italian car brand has been a symbol of sportiness, modern technology and timeless elegance, of which very little remains. With the Tonale, Alfa CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato hopes for a resurrection.
Finally light at the end of the tunnel again. After the Giulia headed in the right direction in 2015 and the Stelvio in 2017, the Alfa Tonale was one of the highlights at the 2019 Geneva Motor Show. But, as is often the case with Alfa, the up-and-coming study model it did not enter serial production. at least not immediately.
Good first impression of a promising project.
Three years late, new Alfa CEO Jean-Philippe invited Imparato to Como last month, the birthplace of Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta. The Italian count and physicist made history in 1800 with the creation of the voltaic cell, better known as the electric battery.
On the program, a first encounter with the Alfa Tonale in the mountainous interior of Como, in adverse weather conditions, including thunder and lightning. The idyllic lake looked a bit desolate, so it wasn’t the ideal setting for a first date with the Tonale that Alfa would have to raise from its ashes.
However, the first impression was the best. The Tonale is the little brother of the Stelvio, but even more elegant and seductive. A feast for the eyes, perfect proportions and although compact on the outside, the newcomer offers plenty of space inside. The dashboard captivates with its classic design, the start button is located at the bottom left of the steering wheel. Two screens keep the driver focused, the large center screen at the bottom features a series of buttons to control essential functions, enhancing ease of use. The materials and workmanship used make a convincing impression, the sports seats provide excellent support for the body.
So far so good. Driving in and around Como is no fun, slow traffic and congested narrow roads make it impossible to give the Tonale its tracks and push its limits. The handling impression therefore remains below high expectations, which may also have to do with the fact that the Tonale is on the platform of the Jeep Compass. Although Alfa engineers have modified the setup and suspension, the Tonale falls short of the Giulia and Stelvio in terms of driving dynamics. But I would like to give the newcomer a second chance, in circumstances that suit him and me better.
The Tonale is currently only available as a hybrid and plug-in hybrid, a fully electric version is not planned. The plug-in hybrid combines a 1.5-litre Multi-Air petrol engine up front with an electric motor driving the rear wheels and has an electric range of 60 kilometers and accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 6.2 seconds. The other versions are 48-volt hybrids with a 1.6-liter gasoline engine and a dual-clutch automatic transmission with an extra coupling between the gasoline and electric motors, which should result in a gain in consumption. I have not been able to determine how small or large it is. Alfa mentions an average consumption of 5.7 and 6.3 l/100 km, CO2 emissions range between 130 and 144 g/km.
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The newcomer naturally has state-of-the-art infotainment systems and is fully connected. The Tonale is also the first model in the world with an NFT (Non-Fungible-Token) certificate, based on the concept of a ‘blockchain card’. This is a confidential record of the most important stages in the life of an individual vehicle.
With the customer’s permission, NFT registers the vehicle data and issues a certificate guaranteeing that the car has been properly maintained, which has a beneficial effect on the residual value.
By the way, the Tonale is the first model from the Stellantis group with a 5-year warranty. An initiative that should put an end to Alfa’s bad image of reliability once and for all.
According to Alfa CEO Imparato, the Tonale should initially provide stability and profit. That can only be achieved by making a strong showing in the segment of compact crossovers and SUV models that is still growing but where fierce competition is being waged. De Tonale targets a young and dynamic audience that is known to be open to change and innovation and has an eye for engaging and emotional design. Regarding the latter, the Tonale scores very well.
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Fascinating story of trial and error.
Once and for all: Alfa Romeo won car races before Ferrari. Even less well known is that the glorious car brand originated in 1910 from the remains of the Italian branch of the French car brand Darracq.
Although Alpha is the first letter of the Roman alphabet, the acronym actually refers to the region of Lombardy, where the car factory was located. The second acronym refers to Nicola Romeo, an Italian industrialist who built engines for army aircraft and railway equipment. After the First World War, he changed his mind and devoted himself to the production of exclusive sports cars. The sporting successes of its own racing team led by young autopilot Enzo Ferrari ensured brand awareness. The legendary Alfa P2 and Type B models date back to those pioneering days and are now worth a fortune.
alpha is nationalized
Following the stock market crash of 1929, Alfa Romeo found itself in serious financial difficulties. To avoid a social massacre, the car brand was acquired in 1933 by the state holding company IRI, which was responsible for the industrial reconstruction of Italy.
1950 marks a turning point in the history of the brand. Management is shifting the focus from racing to mass production of more economical sports sedans and coupes. That same year the Alfa 1900 leaves the production line, in 1954 the Giulietta is added. From the mid-1950s, Alfa began working with well-known Italian designers such as Bertone, Pininfarina, and Zagato. In 1960, Alfa opened a new factory in Arese, where iconic models such as the new Giulia, Spider Duetto, 33 Stradale, Montreal, Alfasud, Alfa 6 and Alfa 75 were built in the following decades.
Fiat abuses Alfa’s reputation
Starting in the 1980s, the Alfa engine starts to sputter, new models don’t materialize or fail, debts pile up. In 1986, the Rome government thinks it has had enough and puts Alfa Romeo on display. Ford is willing to put a lot of money on the table, but the deal falls through due to heavy pressure from the wealthy Agnelli business family. He owns Fiat and dozens of other large and small Italian companies in various sectors and is eager to acquire Alfa.
The acquisition by Fiat protects the glorious brand from imminent bankruptcy, but nothing more. Fiat abuses Alfa’s reputation to burnish its own reputation. The new Alfa models make (mandatory) use of a Fiat chassis and become a front wheel drive car and thus lose their character and sporty driving characteristics.
In 1997, hopes were briefly lit when the Alfa 156 was voted Car of the Year. The elegant four-door looks like a coupé and bears the signature of Alfa designer Walter de Silva. Shortly after, he moved to Volkswagen, the beginning of an exodus of Italian managers and engineers to Germany. They disagree with the strategic choices of Fiat’s new chief executive, Sergio Marchionne, a Canadian banker with Italian roots. He has carte blanche from the Agnellis to reorganize the losing auto division, a task that suits him perfectly.
As his first act, he closes several factories and decimates the budget for the development of new models and innovative technology. That will bitterly break the Italian car group, which merged with America’s Chrysler in 2009. Because FCA (FiatChryslerAutomobiles) launches few new models, it can’t benefit from the SUV boom and also lacks the electric train, meaning it already cannot compete with French, German and Asian volume brands.
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PSA and FCA join forces
The Italian/American automobile group becomes a giant with feet of clay. To survive, FCA has been looking for a partner for several years, first under Marchionne’s leadership and after his sudden death in 2018 under the leadership of FCA Chairman John Elkann (44). The grandson of the paterfamilias Gianni Agnelli has represented the interests of the family within FCA since his death in 2003. It is also Elkann who has managed the alliance with the French PSA (Citroën-DS-Peugeot-Opel) and agrees that the operational leadership of Stellantis will be in the hands of Carlos Tavares. That he has revitalized the French car group PSA in a short time and on the way it also saved Opel from destruction.
Tavares is expected to reconcile divergent corporate cultures from two continents and bring everyone on the same page. A merger can only be successful if far-reaching synergies lead to drastic cost reduction. In concrete terms, this means that all brands take full advantage of the same technologies, the same platforms and the same components, at the expense of their individuality.
In today’s qualifying, Tavares appears to be on his way to making Stellantis a success story as well. The company’s results are already excellent and at the moment everyone is doing well. This has to do with the fact that you set clear and ambitious goals and are willing to allocate people and resources to do so. In the case of Alfa Romeo, it has sent one of its best managers to Turin. Jean-Philippe Imparato (54) is a PSA veteran who, among other things, has put Peugeot back on track. The Frenchman knows the international automotive world like the back of his hand, he has great rhetorical talent and can inspire and motivate people like no other. He does not hide that the financing of five new models for the next five years has been completed. If anyone can revitalize Alpha, then Imparato.