TURIN – Alfa Romeo SpA’s return to the U.S. in 2009 means putting as much effort into a new dealer network as it does the products that will arrive, including a new 169 luxury car; cross/utility vehicle; and specialty cars, the Brera coupe and Spider roadster.

Alfa is working with Maserati SpA to choose a dealer network and is coordinating with JD Power and Associates in Los Angeles to help it prepare, Antonio Baravalle, vice-president-marketing, says at a presentation to financial analysts here.

Alfa plans to sell at least 18,000 vehicles in the U.S. in 2010, some 6% of its worldwide sales goal of 300,000 units. This year, sales will be about 160,000 units, Baravalle says.

Alfa will add three products in the next four years:

  • The Junior, in second-quarter 2008; a 3-door sporty compact aimed at young buyers.
  • The 169, in second quarter 2009; a sporty sedan priced at €40,000-€55,000 ($51,000-$70,000).
  • The CXover, in first-quarter 2010; a 5-door CUV, priced at about €28,000 ($36,000).

Today, half of all Alfa models – the Brera and Spider – are specialty cars. The 450-hp 8C Competizione, introduced at the recent Paris auto show, will be a third, limited to 500 units annually.

The low-volume cars give the brand a halo, says Baravalle, noting the auto maker received 1,000 orders worldwide for the 8C within 15 days of its presentation in September.

The current “higher volume” lineup, the 147 and 159, leave some major gaps in the range, he says. The 147 sells to young buyers, aged 25-37 years, and the 159 appeals to empty nesters, aged 45-55 years; leaving Alfa nothing to offer young families.

The CUV, which will share a platform with a Fiat Auto SpA CUV, is expected to fill much of that mid-market demand. The Junior will be slotted below the 147 and the 169 at the top of the range.

In addition to its preparations in the U.S., Alfa is working on what Baravalle calls, “the brand experience” in Europe.

In the U.K., for example, Fiat research shows Alfa’s reputation, as reflected in sales, is below average for luxury brands and far below the leaders. BMW AG leads the British luxury market with about 110,000 units annually, Mercedes-Benz and Audi AG sell about 80,000 vehicles and Alfa Romeo trails with 6,000.

By upgrading its dealers and concentrating on customer satisfaction, along with new models, Alfa targets 2010 sales of 35,000 units. The process started in the U.K. will be extended to Germany, France, Switzerland and Spain beginning next year.

“We don’t want to do what we did in the past – have a good product when the dealer network wasn’t ready,” Baravalle says.

Alfas have been sold in the U.S. at various times in the past. Indeed, the Hollywood film, “The Graduate,” made an earlier-generation Alfa Romeo Spider an icon.

Alfa Romeo’s return in 2009 also means Americans will take part in the marque’s 100th birthday party. The brand was founded June 24, 1910, as Anonima Lombarda Fabrica Automobili.