Over the past year, the firm has slimmed down its dealer network, introduced new quality controls and cut back on less profitable, short cycle business, its UK managing director, Christopher Nicoll, has claimed.
Appreciating that many fleets may feel a sense of déjà vu at the promise of doing better, Mr Nicoll said: ‘I know it’s been said before but this time it’s different.
‘We previously concentrated on brand values rather than the customer experience, and that has changed. We’re in the toughest position across Europe for Alfa Romeo. There is a perception of poor quality, poor reliability and a poor network. If we do not address this we are going nowhere.’
Mr Nicoll has cut the number of dealers by half to 50, which he believes is about the right number, and introduced new standards across the network in a bid to improve customer service and give a more consistent experience.
Even with the new 159, the firm sold only 5,200 cars in fleet last year, but Mr Nicoll said he is less concerned with market share at the moment than getting the business working well.
That means getting better reliability – the perennial achilles heel of Alfa Romeo.
He admitted: ‘I’m often told ‘you have quality issues’ and in the past that may well have been the case. We haven’t been as rigorous at the factory as we should have been. That’s changing now, and in the UK we’ve instigated an additional quality control when the cars are shipped in.’
For many fleets, residual values will be key to ordering more Alfas. Mr Nicoll said he had ‘turned the tap off’ on short-term, big discount deals in a bid to shore up used prices. The firm has also split many of its customer service operations from sister company Fiat because it has recognised that customers of the two brands need differing approaches.
However, an industry insider said: ‘The problem is, we’ve heard this all before. Alfa Romeo needs three or four years of reliability and consistency to get themselves a proven track record, and then fleets and leasing companies can start to trust them and do business.’