Alfa Romeo’s North American boss expects good news when the results of the next JD Power poll are released.
But the Italian brand hasn’t performed particularly well in previous JD Power studies, such as those that tracked initial quality and customer satisfaction.
Alfa Romeo remains a small player in the US, lagging behind rivals BMW and Mercedes-Benz by a huge sales margin. Larry Dominique, Alfa’s top American executive, he knows there is a lot of work to be done.
Eight years have passed since Alfa Romeo returned to the US market with the two-seater 4C Spider, with exotic lines and rigid suspension, followed by the Giulia sedan and the Stelvio crossover. Before those vehicles, there was a trickle of limited-edition Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione Spiders, with the first arriving in the US in 2008. Some of these can be found on the used market today, priced in excess of $300,000 .
None of Alfa Romeo’s recent U.S. offerings have been overwhelming successes for the Italian marque’s heritage, and that may be because some were too affordable so they were considered mainstream products, said Larry Dominique, senior vice president and chief of Alfa Romeo and Fiat North America.
“The Alfa should never have been mainstream priced,” Dominique told reporters in Detroit last week. For the record, she’s not reporting a high pricing structure in the foreseeable future, but she was talking about extremely attractive leases that were available previously.
“Alfa is a premium brand. It’s just that it was a premium brand that didn’t necessarily act like a premium brand. We now act like a premium brand.”
For Dominique, that means improving the customer experience for those willing to spend at least $44,000 on an Alfa Romeo in the US. Over the past three years, Alfa Romeo has scored low on JD Power’s Customer Satisfaction Index, which measures satisfaction with maintenance or repair work at franchised dealerships or aftermarket facilities. The 2022 ranking was based on responses from 67,185 homeowners or tenants.
In 2020, the first year Alfa was included in the CSI study, the brand scored 792 points on a 1000-point scale, ranking 13th out of 14 premium brands. Scores have improved in 2021 and 2022 (797 and 801 respectively), but so has the rest of the field. Alfa finished in last place both years.
Dominique hopes to improve this year. “Csi (ranking 2023) comes out in a few weeks. Keep the hat. Let’s see how Alfa fares in CSI,” Dominique said. “In my opinion, we will be, if not the most improved, then one of the most improved brands in the industry.”
He said the Alfa Romeo team has “completely changed our mindset in how we treat and think about our dealerships. I talk to dealers all the time,” he said, stressing that acting as a premium brand means focusing on the quality of the vehicles “that leave our factories,” especially the new Tonale crossover arriving in the U.S. in May, followed later by battery electric .
While the JD Power CSI rankings reveal plenty of room for improvement, Alfa Romeo is already making gains on the retail and purchasing front: the sales satisfaction index tracked by JD Power. In 2017, Alfa’s first year in the SSI study, the brand ranked 13th out of 14 premium brands with a score of 755 on a 1000-point scale.
There was a slight improvement in 2018 (score of 759) but the Alfa remained a step up from the bottom. In 2019 there was a move to mid-table (score of 798), but in 2020 the brand fell (score of 797) to 13th place. In 2021, Alfa Romeo ranked ninth (score of 808) among luxury brands for SSI in the US, and last year the Italian automaker leapfrogged the entire luxury sector for first place, with a score of 833.
“So it’s about treating customers right away and giving them the right experience,” Dominique said. “The cars are amazing, I couldn’t ask for better cars.”
There are two other JD Power studies that Dominique didn’t mention in her meeting with reporters: the Initial Quality Study (which tracks the number of problems encountered for 100 vehicles during the first 90 days of ownership) and the US Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study (measuring owners’ emotional attachment and excitement level with their new vehicle across 37 attributes).
In 2019, Alfa’s first year in IQS, the marque finished 29th out of 32 luxury and mainstream brands, with 118 issues per 100 vehicles. The brand moved up one place in 2021, but with 204 problems per 100 vehicles. Last year, Alfa Romeo finished nine steps off the bottom of the table, with 204 problems per 100 vehicles.
In the APEAL study, Alfa Romeo showed steady improvement, ranking 11th out of 14 premium brands in 2019 with a score of 846, on a 1000-point scale. Alfa was not included in the 2020 study, but the 2021 APEAL survey placed Alfa 10th out of 15 premium brands, with a score of 854.
Last year Alfa found itself in the middle of the premium segment, with an APEAL score of 868, placing it eighth out of 16 brands.
Alfa Romeo has been around for 113 years, built around the concept of accessible performance. However, it remains a small player in the US market based on sales.
In 2022, Alfa Romeo sold a meager 12,845 vehicles in the United States, representing a sizable 30% drop from the 2021 tally, according to data from Wards Intelligence. For context, entrenched luxury brands sold significantly more vehicles in 2022: BMW (332,000), Mercedes-Benz (344,000 with Sprinter), Lexus (259,000), and Tesla (456,000).
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