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Alfa Romeo coming to the U.S.?

Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne will soon deliver his fix-it strategy for Chrysler. One big piece appears to be the return of Fiat’s upscale Alfa Romeo brand to the U.S. with a dedicated dealer network. It would be sold as an upscale performance line that offers a bit of snooty European cachet but at lower prices than BMW and Audi. And it could work.

It will be a grand experiment by the Italians. The U.S. luxury market is already hotly contested with Lexus, Mercedes, Audi and BMW holding sway. Infiniti and Cadillac have new models coming. Alfa Romeo retreated from the U.S. market in 1995 and wasn’t exactly known for its quality. So its entrée won’t be an easy one.

But I’ll go out on a limb and say that Alfa has a real chance. I don’t expect the brand to sell cars in big numbers, especially at the start. Alfa will have to establish its name, brand image and prove that its car have real quality. The marketing push will cost a couple hundred million a year. But the styling is sophisticated and sexy, especially the MiTo compact. The MiTo would take the Mini Cooper head on. The 159 sedan is a looker. Check out the GT coupe, as well. The 8C is an absolute stunner. No word on which cars would arrive here from the boot. But they have some product that would turn heads. They are also pretty zippy cars that are fun to drive. Simply put, the brand offers something different than most premium makes sold in the States. And if fuel prices jump again, small and efficient upscale cars could catch on.

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