Having been out of the motor industry for 10 years but keeping up with the ongoing growth and development of my previous industry as an interest and hobby rather than my career, as well as being a world traveller having worked with the Italians and visiting Italy on a regular basis, the proposal for the new Alfa Spider being platform shared with the all new Mazda MX-5/Miata and built in Japan has attracted my attention and prompted me to write and comment on this interesting and emotive scenario. An Alfa Romeo built in Japan by Mazda, and the iconic Spider model nonetheless? Let’s look at this a bit closer and think with the head and not the heart and it will start to make more sense.
As the Italian people are typically very passionate and emotional, it is not difficult to understand why this is causing so many feathers to be ruffled, but it is simply a matter of accepting the facts of modern life and global business that dictate the way forward to not just surviving, but thriving in a highly competitive automotive industry and market.
As indicated by the dismal sales of the last Alfa Spider, only 12488 sold in a five year production run, clearly where the car is built and who has designed it is certainly no guarantee of it’s sales success. And coming to the subject of platform sharing and manufacturer cooperation, the fact that although Fiat are the owners of Alfa Romeo and the last Spider used Fiat underpinnings, this also had no bearing on the success of the model and in fact contributed to it’s failure, as the basis was a generic front wheel drive Fiat platform and the customers and market knew this. On the other hand, Mazda understood and accepted the culture and demands of the two seater sports car market right from the start and designed the MX-5/Miata from the ground up to be a classic front engine rear wheel drive roadster, even to the degree of basing the design on the original Lotus Elan. 23 years later (yes, it really has been that long) and over 900,000 sold worldwide, the old but certainly true maxim of you cannot argue with success springs immediately to mind. And whilst on the subject of success, this project is being proposed by the extremely dynamic and successful CEO of Fiat, Sergio Marchionne, and that fact on it’s own would be a guarantee of a successful outcome.
The key to Alfa Romeo developing and launching a new Spider with the market and success of the MX-5/Miata as a target will depend on it’s underpinnings, not where it is made. It must be a classic front engine, rear wheel drive two door roadster and therefore have the “feel” that only this configuration can offer. Once the generic platform is in place of course the “Italian flair” can then be added, my guess is that some parts critical to the character of the car and where Italian expertise could be utilised will probably still be made in Italy, such as the leather interior and possibly also some instruments, the gear lever, Momo steering wheel and alloy wheels, and the tyres could come from Pirelli.
So I do not believe that where a car is built or who designed it are a guarantee of it’s success at all, it is all down to the underpinnings and character of the model at the end of the day. The all “American” muscle car Dodge Challenger is built in Canada (auto canada) with a drivetrain from Mexico after all, and I could offer many more examples of global parts sharing.
I am really looking forward to seeing the new Alfa Romeo Spider soon!
Original images Auto Express