By Bernie Woodall
ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Fiat SpA's
The first Alfa Romeo to be sold in the United States in nearly two decades, the 4C sports car, is expected to arrive late this year. Alfa Romeo will be sold at Fiat dealerships in the United States.
After the Alfa lineup in the United States is filled out, the brand is forecast to outsell Fiat models, said Peter Grady, head of network development for the Chrysler Group.
"We think that Alfa Romeo will have a little bit larger volume than Fiat will have," Grady said in an interview on the sidelines of the National Automobile Dealers Association's annual convention.
Alfa Romeo models were sold in the United States until the mid-1990s, before Fiat SpA bought the company. Dustin Hoffman's character in the 1967 film "The Graduate" drove an Alfa Romeo Spider.
Fiat's namesake brand sold in the U.S. market until the mid-1980s and returned with the subcompact Fiat 500 in 2011.
Outside of Chrysler's home of North America, Alfa Romeo will build its distribution network by leveraging the "global footprint and premium position" of Chrysler's Jeep brand, Fiat said in a presentation to analysts in New York on Friday.
Sergio Marchionne, chief executive of both Fiat and Chrysler, has said on several occasions that Jeep and Alfa Romeo are the only true global brands in the two companies' portfolios.
Marchionne has also said that he intends to merge the two companies by 2015. Fiat now owns 58.5 percent of Chrysler, up from the 20 percent it received when the Detroit-area automaker came out of bankruptcy in 2009.
Sales of Alfa Romeo in North America and other global markets is a way to help Fiat overcome a production-and-demand imbalance of the sporty brand in Europe, where auto sales and the economy are weak.
Fiat, in the presentation to industry analysts in New York, said it is targeting global sales of more than 300,000 for Alfa Romeo by 2016, up from about 100,000 in 2012.
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Fiat said it would center Alfa's sales in the next few years on European and North American markets, and it said the Asian market eventually would offer a "great opportunity for growth."
Chrysler said last month that it will have 10 Fiat and six Alfa Romeo models on sale in the U.S. and Canadian markets by 2016. Fiat currently offers two models. A third Fiat 500 version, the 500L, which is longer than the models now on sale, will be introduced in May.
Grady said Alfa Romeo will eventually offer midsize models and full-size sedans, which will give it a chance to increase its sales volume.
Alfa is also expected to offer a compact crossover vehicle.
Grady said there are now 202 Fiat dealerships in the United States, which will grow to 225 later this year. In Canada there are 62 Fiat dealerships, a number that Grady said is not expected to grow in 2013.
Sales of Fiat were 43,772 in the U.S. market in 2012 and more than 50,000 in North America, Grady said. He would not give a forecast for Fiat sales in 2013.
Grady said Fiat dealerships that are selling the most Fiats or scored highest in customer satisfaction surveys will be the first to receive the early allotments of the Alfa Romeo 4C.
(Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Additional reporting By Jennifer Clark in Milan; Editing by Eric Beech)