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Published: Wednesday, 6/11/2014 - Updated: 6 months ago

ALFA ROMEOS RETURN TO THE U.S.

Yark among 1st dealers to sell brand

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
The 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C. Yark Automotive will be one of the first dealers in the U.S. to sell the Italian sports car brand. The 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C. Yark Automotive will be one of the first dealers in the U.S. to sell the Italian sports car brand.
CHRYSLER GROUP LLC Enlarge

Toledo’s Yark Automotive Group will be among the first dealers in the nation to sell Alfa Romeos when the Italian sports car brand makes its return to the United States later this year.

Alfa has a long history of building both successful racing cars and well-designed sports cars stretching all the way back to 1910, but has struggled over the past couple of decades with a number of vehicles that didn't live up to its heritage. Alfa Romeos haven’t been sold in the United States since 1995.

With Sergio Marchionne at the helm, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has worked to resurrect the historic company, culminating with the launch of the sporty 4C last year in Europe. As the Alfa nears its re-entry to the United States, Chrysler Group on Tuesday announced 82 U.S. dealerships have been selected to carry the brand. Another four Canadian dealerships were selected.

Yark’s Fiat franchise on the Central Avenue Strip in Sylvania Township was one of four Ohio dealerships chosen to sell Alfas. Michigan is getting five Alfa franchises, with the closest to Toledo being in Ann Arbor.

Doug Kearns, Yark Automotive’s general manager, said the company has always hoped to add Alfa Romeo.

“If you go back to the initial stages of Fiat being relaunched in the U.S., there was always the discussions that for select dealers and select markets, there would be an opportunity down the road to also have the Alfa franchises,” Mr. Kearns said.

Yark opened its Fiat dealership in March, 2011 — one of the first dozen in the United States. It’s been a bit of roller coaster since then. Mr. Kearns said the first year met expectations and 2012 was good, but sales fell off in 2013. This year has been off to a good start, though, with the dealership having its best month so far in May, selling 25 vehicles.

Alfa will be sold alongside Fiat, and eventually Yark will have to make some modifications to the dealership, though Mr. Kearns said no expansion will be necessary. One change will be adding on-site parts and service departments for both Fiat and Alfa. Currently Fiats are serviced at Yark’s Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram dealership across the street.

Alfa Romeo will come to the United States with just one model, the midengine, rear-wheel drive 4C. However, at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ investor day earlier this year, company officials announced ambitious plans to have a full line of eight different models by the end of 2018.

The company believes it can sell 150,000 Alfa Romeos annually in North America by 2018. That lofty goal hat has been doubted by some analysts. Fiat, after all, came into the United States promising sales of 50,000 units in the first year. Two-plus years in and they still aren’t there. Between the standard 500 and the larger 500L, U.S. dealers sold about 43,200 Fiats last year.

If Alfa sales don’t reach that 150,000 benchmark, it likely won’t be from a lack of investment. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles expects to funnel some $7 billion into Alfa Romeo between now and then, assembling an army of engineers.

“Mr. Marchionne has some grand plans for that brand and as a result of that we’re excited to have it,” Mr. Kearns said.

Pricing on the 4C hasn’t been announced. It’s also not clear exactly when the first vehicles will begin arriving in showrooms. Mr. Kearns said his understanding is that the first cars will arrive in port sometime in August. He thinks it will sell well here.

“It’s got classic Italian style, the performance,” he said. “It’s an exciting brand to have.”

Chrysler Group said Tuesday the company expects to eventually have 300 North American dealerships. While Alfa will be sold side-by-side with Fiat, Chrysler said each dealer will have staff dedicated specifically to Alfa.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134 or on Twitter @BladeAutoWriter.



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