January 15, 2013 / 12:31 AM / 5 years ago

Timetable for Alfa Romeo U.S. launch still unclear: Fiat CEO

DETROIT (Reuters) - Fiat SpA’s chief executive, Sergio Marchionne, is still not satisfied that the Alfa Romeo brand has developed the technology to beat other high-performance competitors and has set no date for its return to the United States, he said on Monday.

The Alfa Romeo 4C sports car, which may be unveiled at the Geneva car show in March, is not ready for a U.S. launch, Marchionne said at the Detroit auto show.

He declined to provide a date for when the 4C and other Alfas could be sold in the United States. Fiat stopped exporting Alfa Romeos to the United States in 1995.

Investors are keen to know more about the U.S. launch of Alfa Romeo, since increasing Alfa’s sales is a cornerstone of Marchionne’s plan to cut losses at Fiat in Europe by 2015.

Marchionne plans to sell more Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Jeep and Fiat 500 cars in expanding markets like the United States in order to return Fiat’s money-losing operations to profit in Europe and keep from closing down Italian factories. He has not provided volume targets for Alfa Romeo in the United States.

“Alfa Romeo is coming, there is not a single doubt,” he said at a news conference. The 4C “is not where it needs to be before it comes to the U.S. We will continue to work on that car until we get it absolutely perfect for launch in the U.S.”

Fiat’s re-launch of Alfa Romeo in the United States is one of the biggest challenges for Marchionne since Fiat took management control of U.S. carmaker Chrysler in 2009.

Fiat has been unable to nudge Alfa’s sales volumes significantly since Marchionne took the helm of Fiat in 2005, and his predecessors were equally unsuccessful. It sold 132,400 cars in Europe in 2011.

Fiat does not break out Alfa Romeo revenue figures, and executives admit they are disappointed by the brand’s performance since Fiat acquired it in 1986. Volkswagen AG has circled around it for years as a potential acquirer. Marchionne said again on Monday it was not for sale.

Fiat’s partnership with Chrysler gives the Italian automaker the opportunity to adapt Chrysler’s large-car underpinnings for the new Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan and wagon planned for U.S. launch.

The Alfa Romeo’s technical performance must match the car’s racing DNA, said Marchionne.

The Chrysler platform will have to be “joined to the technical capacity of a Maser and a Ferrari,” he said.

Reporting by Jennifer Clark; editing by Matthew Lewis

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