TROY, MI – Despite “very welcome results” from focus-group testing last year, Alfa Romeo SpA has yet to determine which products will follow its halo car into the U.S. market.

The storied brand will make its official return to the U.S. when the 8C Competizione arrives here in second-half 2008 as part of a limited production run.

And while the 450-hp supercar will share floor space with its Maserati cousins, a senior Maserati executive confirms Alfa will have its own dealer network when the brand arrives in force in 2009.

“Even though (Maserati is) growing and building, when we start talking about Alfa Romeos, the volume will be a lot larger,” says Jim Selwa, president and CEO of Maserati North America Inc., while declining to discuss U.S. sales projections.

“So we’ll need to have a different kind of dealer organization.”

Which models Alfa will bring remains an open question, though Fiat SpA CEO Sergio Marchionne has hinted the Brera and 159 would be considered.

“It all matters how they get certified,” Selwa says, referring to U.S. safety and emissions standards.

But feedback from consumer testing conducted last year in the U.S. produced “very welcome results,” he says, adding: “That’s why the project’s gone forward.”

Selwa makes his remarks here at the North American unveiling of the 8C, which also serves as a marketing vehicle for the 2007 Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance. Alfa Romeo is the event’s featured brand.

“Americans embrace Italian goods – period,” Selwa says, expressing confidence that Alfa will resonate in the U.S. market. “They’re sexy-looking cars.”

Quality concerns that contributed to Alfa’s exit in 1995 are a thing of the past, he claims, adding plans are to “build the brand from scratch.”

Dealers drooling over the 8C concur.

“There’s always room for great style,” says Jeffrey V. Cauley, president of Cauley Ferrari Maserati in nearby West Bloomfield. “Alfa’s got tremendous cachet. No question about that. It’s one of the great marques, like Ferrari and Maserati.”

Of the 8C, he adds: “There is no question they’ll be snapped up. Immediately.”

Says David T. Fischer, chairman and CEO of the Suburban Collection stores in Troy, which includes a Maserati outlet: “People have lots of money and, to some extent, (cars are) fashion. Those people who know high-end cars search them out.”

Fischer says his Rolls-Royce store took its first deposit on a Phantom Drophead Coupe two years ago. And the car is just arriving now in the U.S.

He suggests the 8C, which features a Maserati-engineered gearbox, has the same appeal.

“There’s a handful of people who are waiting, saying: ‘I want one,’” he says.

Selwa also uses the media event to hype the Maserati Granturismo, expected to arrive in U.S. dealerships by November.

He expects to get 200 units before year-end, and – “if we get lucky” – as many as 300 in 2008.

“We have about 560 pre-sold,” Selwa says. “We haven’t even done anything to introduce the car yet.”

Selwa also says he hopes to grow Maserati’s dealer network to 55 stores before 2009. The brand currently is sold in 50 locations, 35 of which share space with Ferrari.

Meanwhile, as onlookers ogle the 8C, a Maserati spokesman subtly needles Porsche Cars North America Inc. over its recent decision to pull out of the 2008 North American International Auto Show in Detroit because the area is not among the brand’s top markets.

Through a sly grin, the Maserati spokesman says: “We think this is a great city to introduce a car.”

emayne@wardsauto.com