Take 5 with Reid Bigland, head of Alfa Romeo, at the launch of the Stelvio crossover – Chicago Tribune
The all-new 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio is crucial to the Italian performance brand’s return to the U.S. The performance crossover is based on the Giulia midsize sedan introduced late last year, sharing the same 280-horsepower turbo engine, suspension, chassis, interior — just about everything, except the body. It is the brand’s third model since returning to the U.S. in 2015 after a 20-year absence, and follows the low volume but lovable 4C and 4C spider two-seat sports coupe.
Despite underwhelming sales against stalwart competitors such as the BMW 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and the new Jaguar XE, Giulia came at a time when the premium compact sedan segment has shrunk as consumers opt for bigger, more versatile crossovers. Like the Jaguar F-Pace crossover, which became Jaguar’s best-selling model after just one year of sales, the Stelvio could help establish a new era of Alfa Romeo.
During the Stelvio drive program outside Nashville, Tenn., we talked with Reid Bigland, Head of Alfa Romeo, about the Stelvio and the brand. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: How important is the Stelvio to the brand?
A: It falls into the largest premium segment in the U.S. (25 percent of premium sales are midsize crossovers) so by being Alfa’s first SUV in our over 105-year history, it’s an important product offering for us.
Q: Does the success of the brand depend on the Stelvio?
A: No, I wouldn’t put all that pressure on the Stelvio. We’re in it for the long term. Any brand that can be in existence for 105 years must be doing something right. We’re focused on creating a driving experience that’s unlike any other vehicle in the marketplace. There’s a connectedness between driver and car that is really unique in today’s auto world.
Q: The Stelvio compares to the Jaguar F-Pace, which is now Jaguar’s best-selling model.
A: With respect to the F-Pace, it shows how consumers are wired to SUVs. Look at Porsche. When I was a kid it was all 911. Porsche sales are 70 percent SUVs now. Maserati, Alfa’s sister company, introduced the Levante last year and it has become 50 percent of Maserati global sales already. Hopefully the Stelvio will have a similar impact for Alfa Romeo.
Q: Compared with how many models and trim levels are offered by BMW and Mercedes-Benz, Alfa’s portfolio feels narrow.
A: We believe there are people out there looking for an alternative to a good German car, and by taking driving dynamics to the next level and offering a little more emphasis on style, hopefully we can fill that void for consumers.
Q: How is Alfa addressing the old reputation of quality and mechanical problems?
A: We’re aware of the potential concern. All I can tell you is we have the most advanced manufacturing processes going on at the Cassino factory (in Italy), the quality control is exceptional, we have secondary checks when the vehicles hit the port of Baltimore, as well as in China, and we’re very focused on delivering the highest quality car that can be developed.
Editor’s note: Alfa Romeo offers a 4-year or 50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, as well as a 5-year or 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.