Jeep Compass/Patriot Replacement to be Built in Italy Alongside New Alfa Romeo Crossover
Jeep was recently tapped to build a Grand Cherokee–based Maserati crossover in Michigan, and now it seems Italy is set to return the favor. Alfa Romeo and Jeep will get distinct versions of a crossover that will be built at Fiat’s Mirafiori plant in Turin, Italy, according to an announcement made by Fiat capo Sergio Marchionne last week. Assuming Alfa finally makes its return to the U.S., both crossovers will be exported to our market in 2012 or 2013. Both the Jeep and the Alfa are intended for sale in Europe, as well.
The Alfa Romeo version should be the sportier of the two, with unique sheetmetal to match the current Alfa design motif (rather than the curvier look of the 2003 Kamal concept car, shown above). The Jeep will look like, well, a Jeep. They’ll ride on Fiat’s “Compact Wide” architecture, which sees the company’s compact platform stretched nearly two inches in width from its dimensions as used in the C-segment Alfa Romeo Giulietta hatchback. (The same widened platform will also eventually underpin a Dodge compact car to replace the Caliber.) We can deduce that the Jeep will be the direct replacement for the brand’s Compass/Patriot duo, as the Jeep product plan calls for a C-segment vehicle to take over for them both, as well as a smaller, B-segment Jeep to sit below.
Fiat hasn’t announced any powertrain information for these cars yet, but we would expect the Alfa to feature the Italian firm’s turbocharged, direct-injected 1.7-liter inline-four with Multiair, which makes up to 232 hp in present Alfa applications. The Jeep might fit better with a naturally aspirated, or at least lower-power, four-cylinder mill. A range of diesel fours is an absolute necessity for both cars to sell in Europe, but owing to federalization costs, they probably won’t grace American showrooms. As for transmissions, $75 says the Jeep will continue to offer a manual, while a stick is a given for thrifty European versions of both cars and the sporty Alfa in the States; it’s also likely that the Italian crossover will get a version equipped with Fiat’s new dual-clutch automatic, called TCT.
These car-based Alfa and Jeep crossovers are critical for both brands. Alfa has never had a real crossover and desperately needs one. The company knows it—it showed an attractive concept at the 2003 Geneva auto show—but weak finances have limited the firm to a jacked-up station wagon, akin to Volvo’s XC70 or one of Audi’s Allroad models. Jeep, while in a much better position than Alfa, needs a true competitor to models like the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and upcoming Ford Escape. The Compass and Patriot weren’t good when new, and, although tweaked over the years, have become increasingly dependent on fleet sales as they’ve aged.
This plan is subject to change, of course. For one, the UAW and American customers may react negatively to an Italian-made Jeep. Making matters worse, even though Italy is one of the lower-cost countries for vehicle assembly in western Europe, an appreciating Euro could make the Jeep and Alfa too expensive for importation to the U.S. Production of the Jeep could be shuffled to North America in either case.
But all of this, or at least the Alfa half, could be moot if Fiat finally acquiesces to VW’s offers to buy the chronically unprofitable Alfa brand, which could sink the crossover’s ship. Either way, Jeep needs a newer, better small Jeep in the States, and Alfa needs to make good on its continuous promises to bring its cars here.