One of the great things about being a classic car enthusiast is that you can voice any opinion on cars and the chances are that someone out there agrees. Which means that most viewpoints have some validity. And a casual scan of any blog or forum suggests that whatever you think about anything car related, everyone else will at least give it some thought.
Take Alfa Romeo (I wish someone would etc). There is hardly a marque this side of Ferrari that comes near to draw quite as much devotion and fanaticism as the Milan company. The big debate though is whether modern Alfa Romeos are actually ‘real’ Alfas or just attractive cars with badges on?
In some sense this issue touches on the problem facing every car manufacturer. In an era of platform sharing and car conglomerates are there any car marques that are truly unique and unto themselves any more? Jaguar, Land Rover, VW, Audi – are they brands or manufacturers? If a marque is a car that is more than just a badge then reluctant as I am to admit it, but perhaps independent BMW is one of the only true marques left.
This is the problem facing Alfa Romeo. The company has invested heavily – and beautifully – in creating attractive cars that require an emotional response first and foremost. The 8C, 159 and Brera are amongst the most beautiful cars on the road today. This certainly appeals to the idea that Alfa is an emotional brand. But according to most pundits, the cars don’t drive anywhere near as well. And this is the problem. I think Alfa has become a brand, a badge plonked onto otherwise quite generic cars. Because beyond the beautiful bodywork the current Alfa range is heavily indebted to Fiat. The once-legendary and sonorous V6 is now GM-sourced, as are the diesel engines. The handling is not quite up to scratch because most of it is from Puntos and Bravas.
Classic Alfas didn’t always look good. What made them great was that they drove well and had fantastic engines. Even the gorgeous Alfa Romeo Spider, launched as the Duetto in 1966, was controversial at launch. That they often looked good too was an added bonus.
For a marketer it is easy to put a wig and lipstick on a pig and make it more attractive. But it is still a pig. If you drape a Fiat in better bodywork, is it an Alfa or still a Fiat?
We need cars that are manufactured with the DNA of the marque built in. The only way to do that is to instill an engineering culture and set of priorities that reflect what matters most to the business. Instead of cars sold on superficial marketing-driven values of appearance and brand, we need to get back to great engineering instead of just great design. That will give us cars that are distinctive and memorable and will linger long into the future – to the long term benefit of the badges on their bonnets.