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Alfa under performs in the UK

The UK Alfa Romeo sales network was the worst in Europe. It was left to its own destiny for the last three or four years and no attention was paid to it.

So says Antonio Baravalle, worldwide chief executive of Alfa, in an astonishing admission of the extent to which the British market needed a shake-up.

There have been 42 terminations and resignations from the 70-site network. Those who remain were selected because they were passionate about the brand, and were able and willing to make the investment for improvements. Twelve new appointments are in progress; the network is expected to settle at 50.

Baravalle says that Alfa Romeo UK was “a network with a lot of problems within a company with a lot of problems”.

One of the first fixes has been the creation of Alfa’s own PDI centre in the UK at the Portbury Docks, Bristol.

“It is like a small research centre. Within one day of a problem emerging you can get a report back to the assembly line,” he says.

Baravalle reckons that between 70% and 80% of all the problems that went out to the customer over the years could have been solved if there had been an in-country PDI centre before.

Although last year Alfa managed only 5,200 sales in the UK, a 0.2% market share, the territory is thought capable of 40,000 by 2012. The breakeven is 12,000 cars.

At last all the circumstances are right for Alfa to re-establish a serious business in the UK. The Fiat Group is profitable enough to fund the losses while cuts are made to the dealer network, a rich seam of new product is imminent and fresh blood has been injected into the business at all levels, with the personal backing of group chief executive officer, Sergio Marchionne.

Marchionne is involved monthly, according to Baravalle. “If we do not succeed in the UK we can forget it in the US,” says Baravalle. Alfa Romeo quit the US and has to get back there if it is to meet the business objective of 300,000 cars per year.

Christopher Nicoll was appointed managing director of Alfa Romeo UK in February 2006. Nicoll wants dealers to deliver a premium service.

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