The two cars that could transform Fiat and Alfa Romeo
Fiat is plotting a radical new Panda as a low-cost EV with plug-and-play options while Alfa’s fate hinges on a new SUV
di Richard Bremner
1 September 2019
Olivier François has a problem. He’s been nursing, nurturing and nibbling away at an idea he had several years ago – a rather good idea – and although that thought has been turned into a three-dimensional object for us all to see, he doesn’t know when it should be turned into something that all of us might buy.
Alfa Romeo Tonale
It takes 10 seconds to sketch the Alfa Romeo Tonale
. That’s according to Alfa Romeo
design boss Scott Krugger, who reckons this fact is a “beautiful testament” to its design strength, and to one of a pair of unusual processes that helped create it. Drawing the essence of this car in only 10 seconds might sound a little disappointing. It’s as if there’s nothing to the car, its lines simple almost to the point of crudity. But no. The ability to sketch it this fast – if you’re a highly competent sketcher, that is – stems from the fact that it carries a few strong lines that capture the character of a visually distinctive car.
Part of the Tonale design process involved examining some of Alfa’s legendary back catalogue, says Krugger, and understanding the strongest elements of particular models: “You look at a car for 10 seconds, then close your eyes and sketch. That’s why we drew these old cars from memory.” And that’s precisely how the Tonale’s chief exterior designer, Alexandros Liokis, sourced some of his inspiration for this concept, which should appear in production form after the middle of next year.
His inspiration boards include not only evolving renditions of the Tonale but also pleasingly crisp sketches of Alfas past, among them Giorgetto Giugiaro
’s 1963 Giulia GT coupé
, designed while he was at Bertone
, aged 21. Other Alfas influenced Liokis, but the Giulia GT is the chief source and, in particular, the gently arching line that runs from the front wing through to its tail. “The simplicity and structure of this car are the key elements,” says Liokis whose daily driver, incidentally, is a 1983 Giulietta
So how close is this concept to the C-segment SUV that the late FCA boss Sergio Marchionne promised last year? Krugger says: “We are near this car. This is our goal. Some elements are conceptual, such as the lights and the mirrors. But we’ll try not to lose the sculpture.” FCA’s European design boss, Klaus Busse, adds that the Tonale was realised not digitally, nor by clay modelling, but through the medium of plaster – an old technique once widely favoured by Italian coachbuilders. Busse has hired the 75-year-old plaster modeller who developed the Lamborghini Countach
and Lancia Stratos
, two of the most dramatic supercars of the 1970s.
“The eye is 50% of the work, and touch, too,” says Busse. “Sculpture is very important. The translation of the sketch and how you blend the ingredients can only be done by hand.” Krugger talks of purity, too, reckoning that the Tonale “is pure in a time of hyper-design”, a perhaps euphemistic reference to the busy designs of some rivals. Which Alfa Romeo must get out and compete with, because it certainly needs this car. Its European sales have dropped precipitously during the first five months of this year, from 41,646 to 24,252, and US sales are down by a quarter.
The Tonale, which will compete in one of the market’s hottest segments, was only born as a concept last November, appearing at the Geneva show
in March. The real thing will share a platform with the Jeep Renegade
, both vehicles to offer a plug-in hybrid option. It’s not yet clear whether this is an all-new platform or a modification of the existing one. Either way, Alfa will need to work hard to develop what is fundamentally a front-drive SUV platform to complement the high standards set by the Giulia and Stelvio
, which benefit from their own bespoke Alfa Romeo architecture.
“We have a dynamics team and they understand what an Alfa should be,” says Krugger by way of reassurance. That it will also come as a plug-in hybrid, triggering Alfa Romeo’s transition to still potent but greener powertrains, should add spice to this stylishly desirable compact SUV. It can’t come soon enough.