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Alfa could be ‘next BMW’

Alfa Romeo has the potential to mirror the sales success of BMW over the next five to 10 years, according to its newest retailer, Islington Alfa Romeo in Melksham, Wiltshire.

General manager Philip Bibbings is confident that forthcoming products like the facelifted 147, 157 and 167, and a passionate approach to the brand will help to boost sales.

The new £1.5m seven-car showroom, one of the first to feature Alfa’s new corporate standards, brings the marque back to the area for the first time in more than 20 years. “We need to take a long-term approach to Alfa, but I believe it has BMW-type potential,” says Bibbings.

The dealership is part of Islington Motor Group, which also has a Citroen site in Trowbridge. The group is planning to gradually rebrand both outlets as IMG over the next couple of months to end confusion over the name, which has seen numerous people in Islington, North London, ringing up for a test drive. A new IMG logo is already being used on number plates.

Bibbings, who is taking up his first general manager’s role, is benchmarking the new Alfa showroom against Jaguar and Porsche – both marques he has worked for previously. “There has been a lack of enthusiasm with Alfa Romeo showroom staff.

The franchised network has been neglected and the product has been neglected over the last 20-30 years,” says Bibbings.

“We need to get the basics right and give customers the service they should expect to get whether they are buying a £5,000 or £30,000 car. We have had good support from Alfa Romeo, and the brand has great opport-unity for growth.”

Islington advertised on the local radio and sent out 30,000 flyers, which started building interest five months prior to the official opening in this month. It worked: in the first three weeks the company sold 16 used premium cars, 13 of which were Alfas. It has also been encouraged by the numbers visiting the showroom.

“The response to test drives so far has been very positive – customers have been surprised how good the cars are,” says Bibbings. “We are already desperate for more stock from Alfa, especially diesel 147s and 156s.”

He expects to sell 100 new and 350 used cars (70% Alfa) in the first full year and believes the marque could take a 1% share of the local market.

The Islington Citroen showroom will either be refurbished or moved to new premises next year and the group will then look for its third dealership. “There are lots of dealers who aren’t satisfying their customers and they are still expanding, so why shouldn’t we?” asks IMG managing director Paul Jones. “But we will stop at three – we want to keep Islington as a family business with a family culture.”

IMG, owned by local residential and commercial property builder Doric, will also open a contract hire division within 12 months, operating from the Alfa Romeo showroom. “Residuals are strengthening and we can make some very attractive packages – there’s a definite return for contract hire companies,” says Jones.



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