AUBURN HILLS, MI – The iconic Italian brand Alfa Romeo has strayed from its roots and the marque’s identity, but nameplate chief Harald Wester says past transgressions will be remedied going forward.

“As consumers grew in needs, we went elsewhere and we lost the opportunity to grow with our customers,” he says during a business-plan review here today. Alfa Romeo “lost all its roots that made it the most unique and desirable car brand in the world.”

In a planned return to its heritage, Wester says the brand has developed a skunkworks consisting of 200 handpicked engineers working independently of other Fiat Chrysler Automobile personnel. The engineering group will grow to 600 by the end of 2015, he says.

The group will focus on Alfa Romeo’s developing advanced engines, perfect 50-50 weight distribution, a set of unique technical solutions, class-leading power-to-weight ratios and designs that are groundbreaking and distinctly Italian.

“We needed a radical solution,” Wester says. “We will resist the conformist pressure that a mass- car producer would exert. We don’t want it to be bound by traditional processes, and (we) want it to benchmark itself against the best offerings of the Germans and be protected and funded by senior leadership.”

Future products will be powered by 4- and 6-cyl. gasoline and diesel engines modified for use by Alfa Romeo and come in both all-wheel and rear-wheel-drive configurations.

Plans call for eight new products in key segments by 2018, with all vehicles designed and built in Italy. One vehicle to emerge from this initiative, an undisclosed midsizer, will bow in fourth-quarter 2015, followed by seven new and redesigned products from 2016 to 2018.

First out of the chute for the U.S. is the lightweight mid-engine ’15 Alfa Romeo 4C coupe, powered by a 1.8L turbocharged 4-cyl. engine rated at 237 hp. The 4C Launch Edition will be available next month in the U.S.

Overall Alfa Romeo volume is projected to grow from 74,000 units annually in 2013 to 400,000 in 2018, Wester says.

“We’re entering new territories and segments we’ve never been in,” he says. “We understood what we needed to do. We needed to reset, and shifting the paradigm is and was a must. We will go back to the Alfa Romeo people admire.”

bpope@wardsauto.com