Alfa Romeo The new boss
Alfa Romeo was the nut even the late, great Sergio Marchionne could not crack. Now it’s Jean-Philippe Imparato’s turn, the brand’s first CEO under new Stellantis ownership.
‘After five years at Peugeot, Carlos [Tavares, Stellantis CEO] said “What about taking responsibility for Alfa Romeo?” My answer was in five minutes: yes, obviously!” I take the car to jump to Italy because you cannot manage Alfa Romeo from Paris.’
You don’t so much interview Jean-Philippe Imparato as surf the waves of French-accented enthusiasm and business acumen that come tumbling from his mouth. His personality makes him a great fit for Alfa, his background doubly so: born in the south of France into a family that had emigrated from Gaeta, between Naples and Rome. He once ran Citroën Italy. His father owned an Alfa Romeo – he ‘couldn’t afford Ferrari, and he didn’t like BMW’.
Imparato explains the lure of Turin, where he works alongside a team of 49 to run Alfa Romeo globally. ‘It’s all about the passion. It’s not for career, you do not jump from Peugeot for career at Alfa Romeo, if so you are mad! You do it because you respect the history, because you are in love with the design of these cars. But you will face walls each and every day, so you must be in fighting mode, and driven by passion.’ And how: Alfa Romeo is a mighty brand with minuscule market share: in 2021, it sold around 50,000 cars worldwide. The latest grand comeback, spearheaded by the Giulia saloon and Stelvio SUV but then stalled by a subsequent void of new metal, has made barely a commercial ripple, aside from the groundwork of reintroducing Alfa to the US and China. Why the disconnect between the brand’s adulation and sales?
‘It costs a lot when you change strategy each and every morning,’ says the new boss. ‘Point one: be stable. Point two: be focused on quality. On that topic I’m obsessed. I mean, a maniac.’
Imparato exudes a determination to take it step-by-step with Alfa. He’s already stemmed the losses, prioritising profitable sales channels, and his team has conceived a plan – big on SUVs (see p58) – that will be unwaveringly executed. ‘When you take a job at Alfa Romeo, you do not stay six months.’ You stay, he says, as long as it takes to deliver the product plan and the results.
Gone are the days of grandly announcing entire ranges, which turn out to be vapourware. ‘I will explain to you each and every year what will be next year’s plan. And 2022 will be the Tonale launch, provided that I have the right level of quality. Then we have one big product event every year for five years, then we renew the cycle.’
And what is the basic recipe to underpin those cars? ‘Sportiness. Inspired by Italy. And always driver-centric. Artificial Intelligence will be an asset in my cars, but I will always select the data that will enhance your driving sensation, the way the car handles. I do not want to sell an iPad with a car around it.’
Current Alfas have lagged on key trends: showy touchscreens, driving assistance and electrification, though the Tonale begins to address that. How quickly will Alfa make the jump to full electric, consigning a litany of glorious petrol engines to the past?
‘When I launch a car from 2025, it’s only electric,’ responds Imparato, instantly putting Alfa on par with Audi for its switchover year. ‘But electrification will be at the service of Alfa Romeo; Alfa Romeo won’t be at the service of electrification.’ That promises best-in-class power outputs, true Alfa dynamics, big ranges and speedy charging stops emulating his Formula 1 team’s pitstops.
Imparato renewed Alfa’s partnership with Sauber last summer, and the motorsport fan – who’s been involved in Peugeot’s Paris-Dakar, Pikes Peak and endurance racing efforts – sounds passionately committed to the top tier of racing.
‘It’s the only motorsport that [reaches] worldwide. It’s a huge investment for me, but this brand deserves [investment] stability. So I give them the opportunity to demonstrate in 2022 that they are improving performance. And we assess yearly the results.
‘I’m very positive, because it’s a whole new regulation, new car, new aero, two new drivers with us. So we are all from scratch on a new adventure. It’s kind of a parallel with Alfa Romeo [road cars].’
And how will that adventure end – will Jean-Philippe Imparato turn Alfa around?
‘So many illustrious predecessors were driving Alfa Romeo. Will I be successful? I don’t know. I have my 10-year vision and my product plan locked and funded. I have a fantastic team and we [will pursue] stability.
‘As for results, let’s take it month after month, year after year: I will report and you will see if we are successful or not.’
Coming from the man who put Peugeot back on its perch, you’d bet on the Alfa nut being cracked. At long last.