Alfa Romeo Tonale launch delayed after new CEO demands better performance

TURIN/ MILAN — The launch of Alfa Romeo’s crucial Tonale crossover has been delayed after the brand’s new CEO, Jean-Philippe Imparato, demanded better performance from the vehicle’s plug-in hybrid powertrain, a source familiar with the matter said.

PSA Group veteran Imparato took charge of Alfa Romeo after the January merger of PSA and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. He saw the Tonale for the first time when he visited FCA’s European headquarters in Turin on Jan. 19-20.

Imparato has demanded better performance from the Tonale’s plug-in hybrid variant and has asked for modifications, according to the source.

The changes will delay the crossover’s launch by about three months, separate supplier sources said.

The Tonale will use the same underpinnings as the Jeep Compass. The plug-in hybrid version of the revised Compass has 190-hp and 240-hp versions. It can be driven up to 30 miles on electric power only. The plug-in drivetrain combines a 1.3-liter turbocharged gasoline engine with a 60-hp electric motor located on the rear axle powered by an 11.4 kilowatt-hour battery.

By comparison PSA’s Peugeot 3008 plug-in hybrid model has a bigger engine, more horsepower and a longer electric-only range. Imparato was head of the Peugeot brand before moving to Alfa.

The 3008 plug-in hybrid’s all-wheel-drive version has a 200-hp, 1.6-liter gasoline engine combined with an 81-kilowatt electric motor on the front axle and an 83-kW motor on the rear axle. It has a total power output of 300 hp. It has a 13.2-kWh battery and can travel up to 59 km in full-electric mode.

The 3008 plug-in hybrid also has lower CO2 emissions at between 29 grams per km and 41 g/km, compared with the Compass’s emissions of between 44 g/km and 47 g/km. Both figures are calculated under Europe’s WLTP testing system.

Alfa Romeo debuted a Tonale concept at the 2019 Geneva auto show, previewing a future compact crossover positioned below its Stelvio midsize crossover.

The SUV was scheduled to go into production in October at FCA’s Pomigliano plant, near Naples, where the Fiat Panda minicar is produced.

In a presentation to an online global supplier convention on March 24, Stellantis did not include the Tonale in its European launch calendar for the current year.

The Tonale’s market introduction In Europe will be delayed until early 2022, the supplier sources told Automotive News Europe. The vehicle is also planned for North America, with this additional delay expected to mean a rollout there in the second half of 2022.

The Tonale will have a key role in reviving the flagging fortunes of Alfa Romeo because it will compete in the booming compact crossover segment.

Alfa’s product lineup has shrunk to just two models, the Stelvio and the Giulia midsize sedan, and its vehicle sales have slumped in its two biggest markets, Europe and the U.S.

The vehicle was scheduled to go into production in October.

An Alfa Romeo spokesman declined to comment on whether the Tonale is being revised and delayed. “We cannot give updates on this topic at this time,” the spokesman said.

The Tonale will be Alfa Romeo’s first new model since the Stelvio went into production at FCA’s Cassino plant in central Italy at the end of 2016.

The brand has not released annual global sales figures, but according to the FIMCISL metalworkers union, production of the Stelvio, Giulia and the Giulietta sedan, which was discontinued in late 2020, fell 9 percent to 53,422 units last year. The cars are built at the Cassino factory.

In Europe, Alfa’s vehicle sales last year declined by a third to 35,503 units, of which 17,332 were Stelvios and 10,747 were Giulias, according to JATO Dynamics. In the U.S., Alfa’s sales increased by 23 percent to 6,093 units last year, according to data from the Automotive News Data Center.

Another utility vehicle planned

Alfa’s lineup will get a further boost with the addition of a small utility vehicle, which will have a full-electric version as well as combustion engine versions. It will be built at Stellantis’ plant in Tychy, Poland, alongside similar models for Jeep and Fiat using PSA’s CMP architecture. The Alfa version is due to arrive in 2023, completing a four-model range for Alfa that Stellantis Head of America and former FCA CEO Mike Manley unveiled in October 2019.

Alfa’s future seems secure under Stellantis despite the group’s wide portfolio of brands that includes Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram in the U.S. and Peugeot, Citroen, DS Automobiles, Opel/Vauxhall, Fiat, Lancia and Maserati in Europe.

In January, during a news conference to introduce the new group, Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares said that he recognizes “the high value for Stellantis of both the Alfa Romeo and Maserati brands.”

Tavares has tasked Imparato, who had a successful run as Peugeot CEO, with reviving Alfa Romeo sales and developing new joint models for Alfa, DS and Lancia.

Alfa Romeo has failed to reach growth targets in a series of turnaround plans in the last 20 years.

In 2014, former FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne unveiled a 5 billion euro ($5.9 billion) plan to turn Alfa into a global premium powerhouse challenging the dominance of German luxury rivals such as BMW with eight new models and global sales of 400,000 vehicles by 2018.