What is wrong with Alfa Romeo?

When someone says Alfa Romeo, what do you think of? Is it Italian style, sophistication and a sporting heritage? Or is it breaking down, dodgy electrics and horrendous depreciation?

When AutoUX picked up our Giulia Veloce in September we had a mixture of those two thoughts. The Giulia had some marks in the paint which immediately caused some concern, but thankfully since then the car has been almost trouble free.

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The dealership itself also didn’t help with the impression. Lots of shiny surfaces and gleaming cars, but dirt and dust in the corners, coupled with your stereotypical greasy looking salesman sat in the corner. Also being paired with the other FCA brands of Jeep, Fiat and Abarth the dealership didn’t feel very focused on the Alfa Romeo buying experience.

Choosing the Alfa Romeo still felt like a gamble. Even in 2018 it’s hard to remove those fears of poor workmanship and sloppy customer service. When we realised the 3 year warranty included with the car was actually only honoured by the manufacturer for 2 years and the dealership for the 3rd year we lost even more faith.

The thing that convinced us to take the plunge though was the availability of short term leasing. We took out a two year lease which gives us the chance to try out the car, and if it’s a dud, then it’s just 24 months of pain before moving onto something else.

Alfa Romeo themselves were keen to push us onto the more traditional PCP route (Personal Contract Plan, otherwise known as a deposit, a monthly fee and then a final balloon payment to own the car). For us though, a 2 year lease was perfect, with no desire to own the car eventually, having this option taken off the table wasn’t a problem.

So what can Alfa Romeo do to help fix this brand problem? 

Well, they’re already making changes for the better – the cars themselves, specifically the Giulia and Stelvio have been built on an all new, much more focused platform, coupled with decent engines offering the horsepower to match the styling and that sporting heritage. Over $5 billion has been spent developing these cars and the reviews show it has so far been a success, with the Giula being seen a great handling sports car to rival the C-Class and 3-Series. The Stelvio is seen as a great handling, sporty SUV which rivals the Jaguar F-Pace, Land Rover Velar and Porsche Macan.

With Alfa Romeo’s planned roadmap, there are also plans for a new smaller SUV which will make the brand that much more appealing to a wider range of the public, who desire style and performance, but with a bit of extra space for the kids or a dog.

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Alfa Romeo have also realised that the warranty they were offering isn’t good enough compared to rivals. They’re now offering a 5-3-5 plan – 5 years warranty, 3 years servicing and 5 years breakdown cover.

The next thing that needs to improve is the dealerships. A less stereotypical set of sales staff would be a great start, with more women being represented. This would make the dealerships feel more welcoming and inclusive. The pairing with Fiat and Jeep makes Alfa Romeo feel less premium than it could be. Standalone, or perhaps pairing with Maserati could be worth exploring, but first the old, tired models, the MiTo and the Giulietta need to disappear. At the moment they drag the brand down, rather than lifting it up and if Alfa Romeo want to be regarded as a premium brand, bringing out more premium, all new models, or otherwise axing these two models and letting the small SUV fill their space would be a good start.

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After driving the Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce for 12 months how have our thoughts changed on the brand? Based on our local garage we’re still not confident they’re fully commited to making the change, but based on the driving feel of the Giula we’re confident if more people could test drive the range, then more people would seriously consider taking the plunge.

With the GTV and 9C on the horizon, coupled with mild electrification promising even more performance, Alfa Romeo has a very sporty future ahead, just as long as the current staff don’t dampen this latest wave of enthusiasm.

2017 – a year of self-driving progress.

So it’s time to ring in a new year, with 2017 flying by we’ve seen a huge amount of progress in the automotive industry.

We’ve finally seen Tesla Model 3’s leaving the factory, albeit rather slowly and far behind the original targets.

We’ve seen the tech giants, Google, Apple, Uber and others all make progress with self driving technology. Google span off their self driving division to become Waymo, which has had fully self-driving cars on the road, letting the public get their first chance to experience a ride without anyone driving. Apple have been altering their goals, but still making progress and Uber have had their self driving fleet on the road in Pittsburgh after some initial legal issues. Uber also announced plans to buy over 20,000 autonomous cars from Volvo.

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The car giants haven’t rested on their laurels though. Almost every brand has shown off concepts, made steps into on-the-road trials or launched models with some from of autonomous elements. Mercedes have shown off their ever advancing tech in the form of Drive Pilot in the E-Class, Nissan have launched ProPilot in the new Leaf, Volvo have launched self driving trials, with real world participants and we couldn’t forget to mention Tesla, who have been tweaking their Autopilot technology further during the year, launching models with ever more cameras.

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There has also been a lot of progress with electric cars, from 48v mild-hybrid announcments from lots of manufacturers including Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Volvo and more. More PHEV Plug-in hybrids from BMW, MINI, Mercedes and more pure electric cars from Nissan, Smart, BMW, Volkswagen and others. We’ve also seen the all new Roadster and SEMI from Tesla which are yet again shaking up the industry.

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2018 promises yet more innovation and electric and self-driving features in more and more of the public’s daily drivers. We should also see a lot more deliveries of the Tesla Model 3.

Autonomous cars. Where we are and what we’re aiming for.

 

Up until a few years ago autonomous cars didn’t seem to really be on the horizon. A product that was felt an inevitability, but one far off in the future. Mercedes had pioneered some elements of dynamic cruise control, but otherwise the industry, at least outwardly, seemed fairly quiet. Newer innovations included lane guidance and auto braking, being developed initially by Volvo and now widespread across almost all brands.

Within the last 3 – 5 years there has been huge progress and we’re in a position where you can walk into a showroom and drive out in a car that can almost drive itself. I say almost because as it stands no manufacturer has reached the point of perfection as yet, but it appears to be getting ever closer.

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Tesla Model X with Autopilot.

Tesla have been renowned for their Autopilot, which sells itself as self driving, but this is more of an advanced form of cruise control, relying on the driver to take control whenever the car reaches a point it can’t quite understand – but every day the thousands of Tesla Model S and X on the roads contribute more knowledge to Tesla’s AI, constantly improving the product.

The latest models now come as standard with all of the hardware for self driving, but the software remains locked unless you’re willing to pay a hefty price tag. What this means though, is that for every Tesla sold with the hardware, Tesla can understand how the car would have responded whenever it gets into an emergency situation and see if Autopilot would have prevented the emergency or accident. It does seem though that Tesla are providing the hardware on all cars for their benefit, to be able to compile your driving data and enhance the Autopilot product for the customers who can afford the extra price of safety.

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Volvo is another manufacturer keen to lead the self driving market, and they’re known as a company which prides itself on being very much safety first. Introducing some of the key safety elements into vehicles, they even introduced the safety belt – and avoided patenting it – so all manufacturers could use this technology and save lives, even if customers had decided against purchasing a Volvo.

Volvo are making strides with their self driving technology and have partnered with UBER in the USA to test their cars. This hasn’t been without controversy though, with UBER failing to get appropriate licenses for this and having to move the trial from San Francisco to Pittsburgh. They’re also trialling self driving cars in Gothenberg and in summer 2018 this trial also moves to London.

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A Volvo XC90 self driving for UBER.

The progress that companies are making with autonomous driving has increased in speed. From just a few years ago, fairly basic technologies such as lane keeping assist and road sign recognition have now been combined into a more useful package. With more mileage and trials by the major car companies it seems like a self driving future is inevitable.

It also brings about the challenge to car companies of non traditional brands taking over their place. UBER, Google and Apple are all competing as well so the competition is ever increasing.

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One of the self driving fleet from Waymo (previously Google).

Of course, with cars driving themselves, plenty of road users will have concerns, and rightly so in some cases as proven by recent high profile accidents such as a Tesla Model S crashing under a trailer and killing the driver. This has been associated with the driver not paying attention to his surroundings, but perhaps he was taking the name Autopilot more truly to it’s name then Tesla intended.

There are also other concerns, how will self driving cars change car ownership? Will self driving cars create a risk of external control limiting your usage, perhaps in the  form of hackers, or a controlling government implementing curfews. What will people do with the time freed up from driving? Will there be job losses when self driving lorries/trucks/buses take to the roads?

This new technology opens an whole wealth of issues, it’s an interesting time ahead.