Few brands have written more car history and evoke more emotion than the Alfa Romeo. For decades, the Italian car brand has been a symbol of sportiness, modern technology and timeless elegance, of which very little is left. With Tonale, Alfa CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato is hoping for a resurrection.
Finally light at the end of the tunnel again. After Giulia went in the right direction in 2015 and Stelvio in 2017, Alfa Tonale was one of the highlights of the Geneva Motor Show in 2019. But as is often the case with Alfa, the promising study model did not come into series production, at least not immediately .
Good first impression of a promising project
With a three-year delay, the new Alfa CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato invited to Como last month, the birthplace of Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta. The Italian count and physicist wrote history in 1800 with the creation of the Voltaic cell, better known as the electric battery.
On the program a first meeting with Alfa Tonale in Comos hilly hinterland – in bad weather conditions, including thunder and lightning. The idyllic lake looked a bit deserted, so not an ideal backdrop for a first date with Tonale, which Alfa is supposed to rise from its ashes.
The first impression was nonetheless the best. Tonale is Stelvio’s little brother, but even more elegant and seductive. A delight to the eye, perfect proportions and even though it is compact on the outside, the newcomer offers quite a lot of space inside. The dashboard impresses 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 central screen at the bottom has a number of buttons for controlling essential functions, which increases ease of use. The materials and workmanship used make a convincing impression, the sports seats provide excellent support to the body.
So far so good. Driving in and around Como is not fun, slow traffic and narrow, crowded roads make it impossible to give Tonale its tracks and push its boundaries. The driving impression is therefore still below the high expectations, which may also be related to the fact that Tonale is on the platform for the Jeep Compass. Although Alfa engineers have tampered with tuning and suspension, Tonale does not reach the level of Giulia and Stelvio in terms of driving dynamics. But I want to give the newcomer a second chance, in circumstances that suit him and me better.
Tonale is currently only available as a hybrid and plug-in hybrid, a full electric version is not planned. The plug-in hybrid combines a 1.5-liter Multi-Air petrol engine at the front with an electric motor that drives 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 1.6-liter petrol engine and dual-clutch automatic transmission with extra clutch between petrol and electric motor, which should provide a consumption gain. 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 from 130 to 144 g / km.
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The newcomer, of course, has state-of-the-art assistance and infotainment systems and is fully operational connected. 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’s data and issues a certificate guaranteeing that the car is properly maintained, which has a beneficial effect on the residual value.
Tonale is also the first model of the Stellantis group with a 5-year warranty. An initiative to put an end to Alfa’s bad image of reliability once and for all.
According to Alfa’s CEO Imparato, Tonale should initially provide stability and profits. This is only possible by cutting a good figure in the segment of compact crossovers and SUV models that are still growing but where fierce competition is raging. De Tonale focuses on a young and dynamic audience that is known for being open to change and innovation and has an eye for attractive and emotional design. As for the latter, 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 dates from 1910 from the remains of the Italian branch of the French car brand Darracq.
Although Alfa is the first letter of the Roman alphabet, the acronym actually refers to the Lombardy region where the car factory was located. The second acronym refers to Nicola Romeo, an Italian industrialist who built the army’s aircraft engines and railway equipment. After World War I, he changed his mind and turned to the production of exclusive sports cars. The sporting successes of his own racing team led by the young autopilot Enzo Ferrari ensured brand awareness. The legendary Alfa models P2 and Tipo B date from the pioneer era and are now worth a fortune.
Alpha is nationalized
In the wake of the stock market crash of 1929, Alfa Romeo ran into serious financial difficulties. To avoid a social massacre, the car brand was taken over in 1933 by the state-owned holding company IRI, which was given the task of carrying out the industrial reconstruction of Italy.
1950 marks a turning point in the brand’s history. Management shifts focus from racing to series production of sporty and cheaper sedans and coupes. The same year Alfa rolls 1900 off the production line, in 1954 it gets the company of Giulietta. From the mid-1950s, Alfa began working with renowned Italian designers à la 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 produced in the following decades.
Fiat abuses Alfa’s reputation
From the 1980s onwards, the Alfa engine starts spraying, new models fail or fail, debt accumulates. In 1986, the government in Rome believes it has had enough and introduces the Alfa Romeo. Ford is willing to put a lot of money on the table, but the deal falls through, under heavy pressure from the wealthy entrepreneurial family Agnelli. He owns Fiat and dozens of other large and small Italian companies in various sectors and is eager to buy Alfa.
Fiat’s takeover protects the glorious brand from an impending bankruptcy, but nothing more. Fiat is abusing Alfa’s reputation for refining its own reputation. The new Alfa models make (mandatory) use of a Fiat chassis and become a front-wheel drive car, thereby losing their character and sporty driving characteristics.
In 1997, hopes flared up briefly when the Alfa 156 was named Car of the Year. The graceful four-door looks like a coupe and bears the signature of Alfa designer Walter de Silva. Shortly afterwards, it moved to Volkswagen, the start of an emigration of Italian leaders and engineers to Germany. They do not agree with the strategic choices made by the new Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne, a Canadian banker with Italian roots. He has carte blanche from Agnellis to reorganize the loss-making car division, a task that suits him perfectly.
As a first act, he closes a number of factories and decimates the budget for the development of new models and innovative technology. It will crack the Italian car group – which merged with American Chrysler in 2009 – sour. Because the FCA (FiatChryslerAutomobiles) releases few new models, it can not take advantage of the SUV boom, and it also lacks the electric train, which means it can no longer compete with the French, German and Asian volume brands.
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PSA and FCA go together
The Italian / American car group becomes a giant on clay feet. To survive, the FCA has been looking for a partner for several years, first under the leadership of Marchionne and after his sudden death in 2018 under the leadership of FCA President John Elkann (44). The grandson of paterfamilias Gianni Agnelli has represented the family’s interests in the FCA since his death in 2003. Elkann is also in charge of the alliance with the French PSA (Citroën-DS-Peugeot-Opel) and agrees that the operational management of Stellantis will be in the hands of Carlos Tavares. Which has revitalized the French car group PSA in no time and a passerby also saved Opel from destruction.
Tavares is expected to unite divergent corporate cultures from two continents and get everyone on the same page. A merger can only succeed if far-reaching synergies lead to a drastic drop in costs. Specifically, this means that all brands utilize the same technologies, the same platforms and the same components to the maximum at the expense of their individuality.
The position today seems Tavares well on its way to also making Stellantis a success story. The company’s results are already excellent, and so far everyone is keeping a good pace. It has to do with the fact that he sets clear and ambitious goals and is willing to allocate people and resources to this. In the case of Alfa Romeo, he has sent one of its best managers to Turin. Jean-Philippe Imparato (54) is a PSA veteran who, among other things, has got Peugeot back on track. The Frenchman knows the international car world like the back of his hand, has a great rhetorical talent and can inspire and motivate people like no other. He makes no secret of the fact that the financing of five new models for the next five years has been completed. If anyone can revitalize Alfa then Imparato.